Study Finds Take-Back Events, Drop Boxes Are Not Stemming the Tide of Abuse

Findings from a recent study of one popular response to prescription drug misuse and abuse are not encouraging. Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center report that community take-back programs and drop boxes are only minimally effective at limiting the availability of these medications for illicit use. Lead author Kathleen Egan, MS, research associate at Wake Forest School of Medicine, commented, “Similar to other studies, we found that only about 5% of the collection from take-back events and drop boxes consisted of controlled medications susceptible to abuse.” Even more discouraging, she reported, was the additional finding that this collection represented less than 1% of the total quantity of these medications that were prescribed. The findings are published online in American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

Annually, over 3.8 billion controlled medications, including prescription opioids, are dispensed by pharmacies in the US. It is estimated that only 30% of these are actually used by the patient for whom they were prescribed, with the remaining 70% available for abuse, misuse, or diversion. The Wake Forest University study examined collection patterns from 3 take-back events and in permanent drop boxes in 5 counties in Kentucky during 2013 to 2014. The team recorded a total of 21,503 units of controlled medication collected, representing 0.3% of the over 20 million units prescribed, including almost 10 million units of opioid medication. While citing limitations of their work, in both duration and scope, Egan noted that disposal programs, at least when deployed in isolation, do not appear to be materially effective in addressing the problem of substance abuse.

A news story about the conclusions may be read here.

The journal abstract may be read here.

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