What happens after prescriptions leave your pharmacy?

prescription bottle

Take care of medications from dispensing to disposal

In brief:

  • Customers with expired or unused medications in their homes increase the risk of someone taking the wrong drug, one that is ineffective or unsafe.
  • During National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day in April 2016, Americans turned in about 447 tons of medications.1
  • By making medication disposal convenient for customers, a pharmacy further establishes itself as a partner in health.

Expired or unused medications pose a potential danger to toddlers, teens and adults in American homes, and customers have proven they care about safely disposing of those medications.

Community pharmacies provide a valuable community service by being a resource for patients to dispose of unused and possibly dangerous medications. Convenient drug disposal is more than a service to your current customers; it’s a way to introduce your pharmacy as a community health partner to others who have never stepped inside your store before.

The National Community Pharmacists Association says that among consumers who take advantage of medication return programs, 40–49% of those people come from other pharmacies.2

Here’s what you can do

A pharmacy has several options to help patients safely dispose of medications, depending upon how active you want to be and your state laws, since a few states still prohibit pharmacies from serving as collection sites for controlled substances.3

  1. Educate. When you dispense medications, also explain why safe disposal is important and the options available to customers.The U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Diversion Control offers a search utility for consumers to find appropriate Controlled Substance Public Disposal Locations.
  2. Partner. The next National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is scheduled for Oct. 22, 2016. Work with local law enforcement agencies to promote and manage collection activities in your community.
  3. Collect. Become a collection site. The NCPA Dispose My Meds program and other vendors offer systems for community pharmacies to manage the collection and disposal of medications. Since 2014, federal rules have allowed retail pharmacies to be collectors of controlled substances and to maintain collection sites at long-term care facilities.4To become an “authorized collector” of controlled substances a pharmacy has to modify its registration with the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control. Also check with your state’s Board of Pharmacy, which may have additional reporting requirements. The pharmacy must maintain a receptacle attached to a permanent structure and have an opening that allows items to be inserted but not removed.5 Employees must be able to monitor the collection receptacle and answer any questions. When a receptacle is full, a pharmacy can ship the internal liner to a facility registered with the DEA for proper disposal.

For an independent community pharmacy, providing safe medication disposal is a community service, a way to increase traffic, and another opportunity to talk with customers about their prescriptions.6 For example, a patient who is frequently disposing of a medication may not be taking it properly. Knowing that allows a pharmacist to help identify and resolve any problems.

Disposal service can also be part of a “green” business model

For a pharmacy that is carving out a niche as an environmentally friendly business, collecting and safely disposing of medication is a natural extension of that business model.

That’s what Catherine Meeks has done at Sango Pharmacy in Clarksville, Tennessee. Since opening Sango in March 2013, Meeks has offered items her customers won’t find at the big chains, particularly natural products.

Early this year she took another step in establishing her pharmacy’s reputation as an environmentally friendly business, becoming the first pharmacy that is Clarksville-Montgomery County Green Certified.7 That included changing to energy-saving lighting and reducing printing by communicating with customers electronically.

But Sango doesn’t stop there, giving customers a safe way to dispose of unused and expired medications by bringing them back to the pharmacy, which sends them in with its regular drug returns. Sango will even recycle medicine bottles.

“We encourage all our patients to bring their medicine bottles back,” Meeks said. “If you throw your bottle away, it’s going in a landfill forever.” The pharmacy is able to include the medication bottles in its own recycling, which includes cardboard boxes in which many items arrive.

For customers using the pharmacy’s med sync program, Sango allows them to reuse their medication containers. Patients can drop off their bottles in the morning and pick up their refills in the afternoon. There’s a cost-savings with that, but more importantly, patients like the idea of reducing waste. “We have patients who get excited about that,” Meeks said. Currently about 25% of med sync customers are choosing to have Sango Pharmacy refill their own containers.

Going beyond filling prescriptions is essential for the survival of independent pharmacies today, and that includes positioning your pharmacy as a lifelong health partner. Providing a way to safely dispose of medication can be part of that partnership with your patients.

Participate in National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on October 22, 2016, and inform your patients of how to dispose of their unused, expired medication safely. Click here to learn more about National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.



1 “DEA Collects Record-Setting Amount of Meds at Latest National Rx Take-Back Day,” U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, May 6, 2016. LINK
2 “Dispose My Meds, Frequently Asked Questions,” National Community Pharmacists Association. LINK
3 “D.E.A. Effort to Curb Painkiller Abuse Falls Short at Pharmacies,” Alan Schwarz, The New York Times, Oct. 10, 2015. LINK
4 “Collecting Unused Medications Benefits Patients and Pharmacies,” McKesson, Nov. 17, 2014. LINK
5 “Why Retail Pharmacies Should Have an Unused Medication Collection Receptacle,” Robin Watson, Pharmacy Times, May 25, 2016. LINK
6 “Collecting Unused Medications Benefits Patients and Pharmacies,” McKesson, Nov. 17, 2014. LINK
7 “Sango Pharmacy Becomes Green Certified,” ClarksvilleNOW, May 2016. LINK


Note: The information provided here is for reference use only and does not constitute the rendering of legal or other professional advice by McKesson. Readers should consult appropriate professionals for advice and assistance prior to making important decisions regarding their business. McKesson is not advocating any particular program or approach herein. McKesson is not responsible for, nor will it bear any liability for, the content provided herein.