Recycling Expensive Medication: Why Not?

Jay M. Pomerantz, MD


Medscape General Medicine. 2004;6(2):4 

In This Article

Program Focus

A drug-recycling program might begin with a few high-cost products, what the industry calls "blockbusters." Blockbuster drugs like Lipitor, Viagra, Nexium, Zyrtec, Celebrex, Vioxx, Depakote, Neurontin, Paxil, Zoloft, Risperdal, Zyprexa, and others with sales of $500 million per year or more account for more than 50% of total drug sales in the United States, up from 28% for the year ending July 1997, according to IMS Health.[42] At its peak, $4-per-pill Prilosec pulled in more than $4 billion in the United States alone. These blockbusters are highly advertised and characterized by extremely high mark-ups for manufacturers. Moreover, direct-to-consumer advertising[43] is also highly concentrated on this subgroup of products. Not only the high cost, but widespread use would make blockbusters relatively easy to recycle. For many of the other medicines, there is less demand and better affordability (especially if they are generics). These cheaper and less widely used medicines might or might not be recycled, but even if not resold, would at least be out of the household medicine chest and properly disposed of -- at no cost to the person bringing in the unused medicine.