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Disposal bins could help fight the opioid epidemic, but few pharmacies participate

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Experts think medication disposal bins could help fight the opioid epidemic, but a recent watchdog report found few pharmacies actually have one.

“The use of disposable bins to collect unwanted drugs is a potential mechanism to help remove some of those unused medications from the public and to safely dispose of them so that they're not used inappropriately," said Debra Draper, Government Accountability Office director of health care issues.

RELATED: Experts fear the opioid epidemic could lead to HIV outbreaks

Pharmacies get authorization from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to operate the disposal bins, which is a place for people to drop off prescriptions or over-the-counter medicine.

“When medicines are no longer needed, they are expired or unwanted, it's time to get them out of the house," said Anita Brikman, executive director of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

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A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that of the more than 80,000 pharmacies and organizations authorized to have a disposal bin, less than three percent actually do.

Low Participation by Pharmacies and Other Entities as Voluntary Collectors of Unused Prescription Drugs

The Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality found in a 2015 survey that 3.8 million Americans reported misusing prescription drugs within the last month, and about half got those prescriptions from a friend or family member.

RELATED: Physicians flagged for questionable prescribing of opioids say it's undeserved

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“As the country tries to look at all kinds of solutions for the opioid crisis, safe disposal is one of those solutions," Brikman said.

North Dakota had the highest rate of participation, with 32 percent of pharmacies and other eligible collectors with disposal bins, according to the GAO report. The next highest was Alaska, with about nine percent.

Draper said the costs associated with running a disposal bin was a large factor in the low participation, but pharmacies in North Dakota have help with that.

“The state board of pharmacy there helps provide financial assistance for those eligible entities to obtain, install and manage their, maintain their disposal bin,” Draper said.

In the future, Draper hopes North Dakota acts as a role model for other states, especially since the Centers for Disease Control said the state had one of the lowest opioid overdose death rates in the country in 2015.

“Whenever you can create opportunities to get unused medications that could potentially be abused off the streets, that's really important, and to dispose of them properly. And I think that's what this disposal program does," Draper said.

Originally published 12/28/17

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