Medicine Collection Program Options

Want to provide an excellent service to your community and stand out from the crowd? Starting a medication collection program is an excellent, low-cost way to do so. It also increases foot traffic to your pharmacy, so if you even have only a few patients per year transfer their prescriptions after coming in to drop off medications you have more than paid for the cost of the program.

In short, a medication collection program is a win-win: it is good for your patients, good for the community, and good for business. It is also much less time-consuming to implement than many programs that community pharmacies can offer.

Here are the options and your guide to implementing each one (and no, I am not including 'throw in the trash with coffee grounds' - I mean options that will truly dispose of the medication in a safe and environmentally-friendly way).

Activated charcoal pouches

A good example of these are the pouches available from Mallinckrodt. Each pouch can hold 10-15 pills, which is not practical in most situations but for physician office use or the occasional medication issue it can help.

I have had, for example, people come to the pharmacy to turn in a vial of prescription medication (sometimes for medications that have abuse potential) because they found it on the street. For obvious reasons the best option is definitely not to refuse to help them dispose of it, so that is a good example of a time when the pouches can come in handy (although if you have a receptacle you will not need them).

Other times the pouches can be helpful is when a prescription is written for a medication that patient realizes they cannot take after picking it up (which, in spite of confirming the medication with them, still happens) and tries to bring it back to the pharmacy. There is no state that will allow pharmacies to accept medication back to re-dispense (and it is a violation of USP's General Notices and Requirements), of course, but some states go further than that and do not allow the pharmacy to accept medication back for any reason.

As in the above case, without some safe way to dispose of the medication it leaves the pharmacy and pharmacist in a sticky situation:

1) Take the medication back to dispose of it in spite of the Board rule (of course risky)


2) Tell the patient you can't do anything to help them, knowing it could end up on the street?

If you have a pouch to give them it resolves the situation. They are a fast and easy item to obtain and even if your ultimate goal is to get a collection receptacle these still could be a great option in the interim.

At the very least, if you work closely with any providers, it is worth suggesting to them to order a few for their office to have on hand.

Mail-back program

Mail-back programs have much of the same advantages and disadvantages as the activated charcoal pouches. They can be readily ordered either online or from a distributor so are quick to implement.

In the case of envelopes they also, though, add in the additional step of having to mail it out. If your pharmacy either has a USPS drop-off bin or is in a shopping mall/complex with convenient access to one that will help, but many patients simply don't want to go through the extra hassle of going to the post office.

A good example, and probably one of the most common, is this TakeAway Medication Disposal System.

They are also available in larger boxes, like this one, that allow the pharmacy to accept large amounts from multiple patients and take the responsibility for mailing it out, which would eliminate that barrier and improve participation in the program.

Lastly, controlled medications cannot be disposed of through these systems because they do not meet DEA requirements for the disposal of controls. That unfortunately is a big disadvantage and makes these products less than ideal.

DEA Annual Takeback Program

As most of you know, the DEA holds a twice-annual Drug Takeback Event in April and October. It is great for the pharmacies because the DEA coordinates the entire thing and will take any medications, no questions asked (I know for a fact because I have used it before - the police offers involved are not there to look at what is in each vial or take any inventory; patients can just drop them in their bin for secure disposal).

The downside is that it only happens twice per year and many patients are not willing to hold on to medications that long; furthermore, they only have a limited number of sites at each event and they are not always convenient.

You can help with this even by:

  • Advertising the events with flyers, etc. in the pharmacy and

  • Register as a participating site (if you don't currently have a collection receptacle)

Collection Receptacles