Drug disposal: The other side of pharmacy

Earth Day is April 22. So it's as good a time as any to look at one aspect of community pharmacy that gets far less attention than such issues as managed care reimbursements or medication therapy management, but nonetheless is a key service provided by some pharmacists and a benefit to communities and the environment.

We’re talking about drug and syringe disposal. In anticipation of Earth Day 2012, the National Community Pharmacists Association is urging pharmacists "to demonstrate their role as a respected and knowledgeable resource on all aspects of medications, from dispensing to disposal."

How? By becoming a collection center for used syringes and old, expired or unused prescription medicines.

Each year, tons of unused or expired meds and millions of needles end up flushed into the water supply or deposited in landfills. Pharmacies that participate in such collection/disposal systems as NCPA's Dispose My Meds program or the Sharps TakeAway Environmental Return System can keep that from happening while they forge stronger ties with patients.

In the two years since its launch, NCPA said, pharmacists participating in Dispose My Meds have collected some 70,000 lbs. of unused or expired noncontrolled medications.

That includes some pretty incredible catches. In Cohoes, N.Y., for instance, the son of a deceased former county employee brought $30,000 worth of unopened, unused medications into Marra's Pharmacy, including pills, insulin, insulin strips and more than 50 boxes of nasal spray.

This is more than just a feel-good environmental initiative. By serving as a drop-off point for unused or expired meds and syringes, a retail or clinical pharmacy also can spur more pharmacist-to-patient interactions and anchor itself even more firmly within the web of community health providers.

“Community pharmacies that voluntarily offer drug disposal services for their patients have an opportunity to build better relationships with patients as they discuss their medication needs,” said NCPA president and independent pharmacy owner Lonny Wilson. "The face-to-face, patient-pharmacist interaction in a community pharmacy improves health outcomes and prevents the waste that is associated with 'auto-shipping' mail-order programs.”

If you're a practicing pharmacist whose workplace serves as a drop-off site, please share your stories with us. What kind of unused or expired products are patients bringing in, and has the process led to a boost in store traffic or new patients?

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