One Piece Of The Opioid Crisis Puzzle: Safe Disposal Of Unused Medication

Feb 7, 2018

A recent analysis by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found up to 71 percent of prescribed pills go unused. It’s just one contributing factor to the opioid crisis.

A new campaign in western Virginia hopes to make it easier to safely get rid of unused medication.

Students work on parts for the drop box, seen in the foreground.
Credit David Seidel/Radio IQ

Inside a welding shop at Roanoke County’s Burton School, students are fabricating a drug drop box. It's a mailbox-sized steel container where people can securely dispose of unused prescription drugs.  The one they're working on is destined for the Vinton Police Department.

While an increasing number of law enforcement agencies host similar boxes, the regional anti-addiction group Urgent Love Initiative says they would be even more effective if they were located where those prescription drugs originate.  Of the 217 pharmacies in a 26 county area of western Virginia, only 8 have a drop box, according to strategist Walt Boyle. "It can have a huge impact," Boyle said at a Wednesday news conference. "It can save lives is the bottom line.  So I don’t think there are a lot of hurdles they can’t get over."

The Roanoke County sheriff’s office got its box in 2016.  Chief Deputy Steve Turner says they’ve collected trash bags full of unused medications. "If you can imagine, we took out nearly 80 pounds the other day.   And it’s three huge garbage bags.  They’re coming out of a 30 gallon trash can size thing.  So it’s amazing the amount of drugs we take in."

Regional law enforcement officers, The Urgent Love Initiative and the Prevention Council of Roanoke County announce the Lonely Drop Box Campaign.
Credit David Seidel/Radio IQ

The Urgent Love Initiative and Roanoke County’s Prevention Council are now lobbying the four major pharmacy chains in the western part of the state to install more of the boxes at their stores.  The effort, dubbed the "Lonely Drop Box Campaign," includes education efforts and a letter writing blitz to the CEOs of Kroger, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens.

When asked about the campaign, a Kroger spokeswoman said the company does not have plans to install boxes.  Instead it will partner with law enforcement on drug take back initiatives.

Walmart will soon include a drug disposal kit with each opioid prescription.  The chemical solution will render unused opioids harmless. 

A CVS spokeswoman noted the company recently expanded its in-store drop box program, though Virginia was not included in its initial list of locations. 

Walgreens, the fourth pharmacy targeted by the campaign, has nine stores in Virginia with drop boxes, including one in Roanoke.  A spokesman for the company says it plans to add 900 more around the country.

Click here for more about the "Lonely Drop Box Campaign"