Recycling Expensive Medication: Why Not?

Jay M. Pomerantz, MD

In This Article

Public Health Benefits of Recycling Medicines

Unfortunately, when consumers do not properly dispose of medicines, there is also the problem of accidental or, more likely, purposeful overdosage. Suicide is a major public health problem, and the most likely form suicide attempts take is with overdosages of medicine. Whereas many physicians treating suicide-prone patients limit prescription quantities of potentially lethal medicines, that does nothing for the stored bottles of medicines that reside in consumers' homes. Lethal quantities of residual pills in medicine cabinets invite impulsive suicidal action, as well as accidental ingestion by children.

Another benefit from a recycling program would be information about why patients prematurely stop their medication. Information compiled about which medicines seemed to get turned in most frequently is sorely needed to learn about real-world medication effectiveness, side-effects, and adherence. Such data would highlight problems with specific medicines quickly and would certainly be of interest both to pharmaceutical manufacturers and the FDA. Recycling pharmacists might also notify prescribers about the early return of vital medication and/or directly educate patients about the need for continuing medication for chronic indications such as diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, major depression, schizophrenia, AIDS, etc.