Fifty-five percent of respondents in a recent survey claimed to keep unused medications in their cabinets instead of disposing of them. The study included 721 participants and was published in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association. Participants consisted of Medicare Advantage members who had Part D coverage in Central Pennsylvania and who completed a telephone interview in May 2014.

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The selected group included a total of 2,994 medications, of which 247 (8%) were reported unused by the respondents. Fifteen percent of the unused medications were reported to be controlled substances. The most commonly unused medications were those for pain (15%), hypertension (14%), antibiotics (11%), and psychiatric disorders (9%). About 25–50% of the unused medications were due to unused portions by patients. In regards to disposal, about 11% of unused drugs were discarded via drug take-back programs whereas 55% were kept in a cabinet, 14% discarded in the trash, and 9% flushed down the toilet. 

The reasons for unused medications varied by drug type. Adverse effects and overprescribing were cited the most by patients for stopping pain medications, and ‘dosage changed by doctor’ was cited the most for stopping hypertension medications.

The authors of the study call for community-level interventions to improve medication efficiency and awareness of appropriate disposal methods, especially when it comes to controlled substances. They contend that more awareness may help reduce potentially harmful events associated with improper disposal, such as accidental exposure by children.

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