JOURNAL ARTICLE

Taking stock of medication wastage: Unused medications in US households

Anandi V Law, Prashant Sakharkar, Amir Zargarzadeh, Bik Wai Bilvick Tai, Karl Hess, Micah Hata, Rudolph Mireles, Carolyn Ha, Tony J Park
Research in Social & Administrative Pharmacy: RSAP 2015, 11 (4): 571-8
25487420

BACKGROUND: Despite the potential deleterious impact on patient safety, environmental safety and health care expenditures, the extent of unused prescription medications in US households and reasons for nonuse remain unknown.

OBJECTIVE: To estimate the extent, type and cost of unused medications and the reasons for their nonuse among US households.

METHODS: A cross-sectional, observational two-phased study was conducted using a convenience sample in Southern California. A web-based survey (Phase I, n = 238) at one health sciences institution and paper-based survey (Phase II, n = 68) at planned drug take-back events at three community pharmacies were conducted. The extent, type, and cost of unused medications and the reasons for their nonuse were collected.

RESULTS: Approximately 2 of 3 prescription medications were reported unused; disease/condition improved (42.4%), forgetfulness (5.8%) and side effects (6.5%) were reasons cited for their nonuse. "Throwing medications in the trash" was found being the common method of disposal (63%). In phase I, pain medications (23.3%) and antibiotics (18%) were most commonly reported as unused, whereas in Phase II, 17% of medications for chronic conditions (hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol, heart disease) and 8.3% for mental health problems were commonly reported as unused. Phase II participants indicated pharmacy as a preferred location for drug disposal. The total estimated cost for unused medications was approximately $59,264.20 (average retail Rx price) to $152,014.89 (AWP) from both phases, borne largely by private health insurance. When extrapolated to a national level, it was approximately $2.4B for elderly taking five prescription medications to $5.4B for the 52% of US adults who take one prescription medication daily.

CONCLUSION: Two out of three dispensed medications were unused, with national projected costs ranging from $2.4B to $5.4B. This wastage raises concerns about adherence, cost and safety; additionally, it points to the need for public awareness and policy to reduce wastage. Pharmacists can play an important role by educating patients both on appropriate medication use and disposal.

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