When the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that pharmacies nationwide could destroy customers' unwanted prescription drugs, experts called it a significant step toward easing the painkiller and heroin epidemic. One year later, the New York Times reports, the response has been insignificant, leaving communities searching for other strategies. Only about 1 percent of U.S. pharmacies have set up disposal programs, with none of those belonging to the two largest chains, CVS and Walgreens, which have balked at the cost and security risks, according to government and industry data.
Countless unused prescription pills like oxycodone and Xanax linger in household medicine cabinets, in easy reach of addicted adults and experimenting adolescents. People who develop painkiller dependencies often move on to heroin, which is considerably cheaper and provides a stronger high. About 23,000 Americans died of prescription-drug overdoses in 2013, more than twice the number from 2001, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Participation by pharmacies in the program is voluntary, and leaves pharmacies with the costs of collecting, safeguarding and incinerating the pills. At least eight states have laws that forbid pharmacies to take back controlled substances. DEA has held 10 take-back days, when law enforcement groups encourage people to bring them unwanted medications for disposal. While these have collected 2,400 tons of pills, the vast majority may be noncontrolled substances.