We All Have a Role to Play in Safe Medication Disposal

This article was authored by Tom Davis, R.Ph., vice president of professional services for CVS Health.

I know too well the dangers of prescription drug misuse and abuse for individuals and families. That’s one reason I am proud of the work we do every day at CVS Health to help combat opioid misuse as part of our purpose of helping people on their path to better health.

Too often medicines that were once needed go unused and are left in the home where they might be diverted and misused. In fact, medicine cabinets are a major source of diverted prescription opioids,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30849719 which is why it is important for individuals to be aware of the safe medication disposal options available in their communities.

Supporting Medication Disposal Locally

National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is a good reminder of the importance of disposing of unused and unwanted medications. In addition to select CVS Pharmacy locations serving as sites for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s take-back events across 27 states, CVS Pharmacy is helping to provide options where consumers can conveniently locate and access safe disposal locations year round.

Every day, consumers can dispose of unused or unwanted medicines at CVS Pharmacy stores and community locations across the country. We have installed safe medication disposal units to make disposal options more accessible in more than 1,000 CVS Pharmacy locations and have donated 950 additional units to community locations such as police departments.

Together, these units have collected more than 324 metric tons, or 715,000 pounds, of unused or unwanted medications that might otherwise have been diverted, misused or ended up in our water supply. That amounts to the approximate weight of a 747 jetliner. An additional 900 safe medication disposal units are planned to roll out in CVS Pharmacy stores in states across the country by the end of 2019.

Through our partnership with Google Maps, consumers can quickly search “drug drop off near me” in Google to locate permanent disposal locations in their community, such as a CVS Pharmacy or government buildings.

A Multifaceted Approach to Helping Combat Opioid Misuse

Our safe medication disposal program is just one part of our multi-pronged strategy to help prevent opioid misuse. As one of the 30,000 pharmacists at CVS Health, I am especially passionate about helping people understand the risks of prescription drug misuse. 

One example of how our pharmacists are doing just that is Pharmacists Teach. An innovative prevention education program, Pharmacists Teach connects our pharmacists to local schools to talk with students and parents about the dangers of misusing prescription drugs, using a curriculum developed with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. We have reached nearly 475,000 students and parents nationwide through the program.

In addition, our pharmacists also provide counseling to patients who are new to an opioid prescription. In line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Guideline, this counseling educates patients on use, risks, storage and disposal at an important point in time, before they start on their medication.

Reducing the amount of unnecessary opioids prescribed can also help reduce the potential for misuse. To that end, CVS Health is implementing utilization strategies to help.  

  • In line with the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, we have implemented programs to help pharmacy benefit management clients reduce opioid utilization for Caremark members. To date, for clients adopting our utilization management criteria, the number of prescriptions covered for more than a 7-day supply decreased by 71.9 percent. Among those clients, the number of prescriptions covered for a 7-day supply or less is now 94.3 percent.

  • Aetna, a CVS Health business unit, is making progress in its five-year plan to help fight opioid misuse through prevention, intervention and patient support programming. In the first year of its strategy, Aetna has seen an approximately 60 percent increase in the rate of treatment with non-opioid interventions in members with chronic pain. The rate of opioid prescriptions written for seven or more days after an acute procedure decreased about 50 percent.

We’re making real progress in our efforts to help combat the misuse of prescription drugs, through our own programs and by collaborating in the community. And together, we’ll continue our work to help make a difference in building safer, healthier communities.

For more information about our efforts in the fight against opioid abuse, visit Our Commitment to Fight Opioid Abuse and the CVS Health Impact Dashboard. To stay informed about the latest updates and innovations from CVS Health, register for content alerts and our bi-weekly health care newsletter.

04.25.19