Prescription drug disposal made easy at health clinics

The Military Health System’s prescription Drug Take Back program logo. DoD graphic
The Military Health System’s prescription Drug Take Back program logo. DoD graphic

By Terri Moon Cronk

DoD News, Defense Media Activity

Defense Department health care beneficiaries can safely and easily dispose of expired and unused medications by bringing them to a military treatment facility or, in some cases, picking up a mailing envelope from the installation to send for destruction of the medications free of charge, Dr. George Jones, chief of the Defense Health Agency’s Pharmacy Operations Division, said Sept. 12.

The Drug Take Back program allows for disposal of expired and unused prescription and over-the-counter medications to cut the risks of accidental or even intentional drug misuse for medications such as opioids, Jones said.

“DoD and the [Military Health System] are committed to reducing the risk of prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse in the military community, supporting the nation’s efforts to reduce opioid abuse,” he said.

DoD’s Drug Take Back program is in line with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy efforts to decrease prescription drug and opioid abuse, Jones noted.

Proper medicine disposal also reduces the amount of drugs that seep into the environment through water supplies and landfills when thrown into the trash, he said, adding that practicing good medication habits can improve one’s health.

How It Works, What’s Accepted

Military medical facility pharmacies can accept legal prescription and over-the-counter bottled pills, tablets and capsules, ointments, creams, lotions, powders and liquid medications that are no more than 4 ounces, Jones said, adding that pet medications are also included in the program. Patients can take drugs to their military treatment facility or send them by mail in a special envelope available at some pharmacies, he said.

A partial list of items that are not accepted for disposal by pharmacies include aerosol spray cans, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, needles, syringes, sharps containers, trash, mercury thermometers, batteries and chemicals. Jones said the Environmental Protection Agency has guidelines on disposing such items.

“It’s an opportunity for patients to get [drugs] out of their medicine cabinets, cars, homes or wherever they may have medications stored,” he said, adding that disposing of outdated drugs also keeps them away from children.

In Stuttgart:

Stuttgart Health Clinic’s Pharmacy Chief Cpt. Chenyeh Huang, PharmD advised that the clinic does offer drug disposal services on a regular basis in Stuttgart.

“Just bring the expired medication to the pharmacy and we will take it over from there,” he said.  Prior to bringing any expired or unwanted medications to the clinic, Huang asks all beneficiaries to remove any Personally Identifiable Information on the label.

DoD First to Have Nationwide Program

A 2014 change in rules at the Drug Enforcement Administration now permits military treatment facilities to accept and dispose of medications. DoD became the first federal agency that “leaned forward” and put the program in place nationwide for its beneficiaries.

“DoD is a subset of the population as a whole. If there is a concern across the population at large, it could be an issue for our beneficiaries. We wanted to ensure the opportunity was there for our patients. Expired [medications] and drugs that are sitting around could create the chance for misuse,” Dr. George Jones, chief of the Defense Health Agency’s Pharmacy Operations Division said.

Additionally, medicinal expiration dates exist for a reason, and Jones encourages people to watch dates on medication packaging to make sure they get the desired results of the medicine, rather than an unexpected reaction.

DoD has participated with law enforcement and the DEA for many years in drug take-back events, said Cmdr. Phung Nguyen of the U.S. Public Health Service, a pharmacist at DHA’s Pharmacy Operations Division.

“We’ve so far collected over 60,000 pounds of drugs for disposal in DoD alone since January 2014,” Nguyen said. “It’s a fully recognized program. We’ve always worked with DEA and felt this effort was necessary.”

DoD civilians who use commercial pharmacies can ask their drugstores or local law enforcement agencies about disposal programs, Jones said.