Medications – those remaining after usage is no longer needed, left after a death in the family, or excreted thorough normal metabolisms – can present an array of problems.  Pharmaceuticals, both from humans and veterinary sources,  have entered the water supply through improper disposal.  Surveys of natural water bodies acting as downstream receptors of waste water reveal detectable quantities of prescription and non-prescription drugs.  Drugs no longer needed are often stored in unsecure locations in the home, creating the potential for accidental poisoning, misuse and prescription drug abuse.  The Center for Disease Control has voiced the opinion that prescription drug abuse is reaching epidemic levels.  In addition, concerns are raised across the country about landfill disposal and the potential for drug entry into land disposal leachate collection systems.

Many governments  – state, county, municipal, have enacted programs, that seek to capture and properly dispose of pharmaceuticals.  Most common are one-day collection events, similar in their construct to HHW one-days.  However, pharmaceutical one-day events are expensive, as they commonly require pharmacist and police coverage in addition to normal logistical concerns such as traffic routing, etc.  Some communities have implemented drug take-back lock boxes situated at public buildings, commonly police stations.  These have met with limited success, largely because they are not convenient, and some law enforcement advocates feel that take-back programs are not a primary law enforcement function.


Because so many governmental entities are grappling with the issue of pharmaceuticals, many innovative approaches have been reviewed, pilots and more permanent programs launched. Many of the programs have suffered from one or more operational concerns, largely distance, infrequency of service, inconvenience, and costs.

  • Alameda County in California has a somewhat unique experience in having tried several structurally different programs for pharmaceuticals, and was able to contrast effectiveness and costs.  After trying one-day collection events and drop boxes, Alameda County enacted a extended producer responsibility program for mediations, where households can bring their medications to pharmacies.  Pharmacies already have the knowledge and security in place to handle discarded and unwanted pharmaceuticals.  Alameda County’s drug take back ordinance, “Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance” was passed in the summer of 2013, and was challenged by three industry groups in U.S. District Court.
  • The Canadian province of British Columbia has a Product Stewardship model in place for medications.  Called the British Columbia Medications Return Program, pharmacies accept prescription and over the counter drugs for destruction.  This successful program is run by the Health Products Stewardship Association, a non-profit created to manage this program.
  • Washington’s King County Board of Health passed a Rule and Regulation in June 2013 that created a drug take-back system targeting both prescription and over-the-counter medications. Funded and operated by drug manufacturers, consumers and take their unwanted drugs to pharmacies and other secure locations.
  • For almost a year the Product Stewardship Institute and the New York Product Stewardship Council conducted a pharmaceuticals take-back pilot program in Oneida and Lewis Counties.  Five (5) pharmacies participated and proved the success of a pharmacy-based collection system in these rural areas.  The conclusion of the pilot and subsequent report contains a wealth of practical information on collection containers, advertising, outreach and management of the captured pharmaceuticals.  See the link to this report below.


This year, 2017,  legislation was introduced into Connecticut that sought to implement a product stewardship system for unused Pharmaceuticals:  House Bill 5077 [hearing date February 7, 2017]


Link:    King County, Rule and Regulations

Link     Alameda County “Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance”

Link:    BC Health Products Stewardship Association

Link:    BC Consumer Brochure

Link:    Product Stewardship Institute – White Paper

Link:    Drug Take Back Guide, Oneida, Lewis Counties NY

Link:    Connecticut House Bill 5077