Pharmacy Participation in Drug Take-Back Programs: The Pros and Cons


Do drug take-back programs in pharmacies do more harm than good?

Many states have recently authorized pharmacies to participate in voluntary drug disposal programs (popularly known as drug take-back programs). In general, the pharmacist in charge is responsible for determining whether to participate, and no individual or entity can mandate pharmacist participation in a drug disposal program at a pharmacy practice site.

So, what are the pros and cons of participating in a voluntary drug disposal program?

Pro: The program may be a way to assess if your patients have been taking their medications as prescribed. If patients bring in half-empty antibiotic bottles or expired medications for chronic conditions, these patients may need more counseling and education about their therapy.

Pro: For fear of repercussions, people feel more comfortable bringing back medications (especially narcotics) to a pharmacy instead of a law enforcement agency. The pharmacy profession is still highly trusted and valued by communities. Therefore, pharmacists can help identify whether patients or their family members need help with addictions or other behavioral problems. The pharmacy can be a wealth of information for patients.

Pro: Participating in a drug take-back program can help ensure that medications are destroyed properly per federal drug disposal rules. Medications should be removed from their original containers and mixed with an undesirable substance. The mixture should be placed in a durable, sealable bag or container to prevent medications from leaking from it. A few medications are allowed to be flushed (e.g., fentanyl, morphine, diazepam).

Con: The pharmacy must incur the cost of purchasing a receptacle to contain all the medications that are brought back. Also, the receptacle could take up a lot of space.

Con: Marketing a drug take-back program can attract drug seekers who see it as a window of opportunity. Even though returned medications are mixed with an undesirable substance, drug seekers may take them anyway.

Con: All pharmacy employees may not be comfortable with the program or with handling returned medications. Because pharmacists cannot be mandated to participate, their decision to participate or not could cause animosity and division within the pharmacy.

Several issues must be considered before deciding to participate in a drug disposal program. The concept and intent of the program are admirable, but is participation a good business decision?

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