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Geisinger medicine take-back program eliminates disposal hazard


DANVILLE, Pa. -- Check your medicine cabinet. If you’re like most people, you have at least one bottle of unused medicine sitting on the shelf, a few pills rattling around in the bottom. Maybe it’s the remaining few doses of an antibiotic that you stopped taking because you felt better. Or maybe it’s a pain killer that you ended up not needing. Whatever it is, it could be dangerous.

According to Eric Wright, PharmD, MPH, senior investigator and co-director of the Center for Pharmacy Innovations and Outcomes, Geisinger Health System, access to these unused medications offers a dangerous opportunity for illegal use and abuse, especially by children and teens.

“Abuse of medicine among teenagers is a growing problem, especially since many of these kids don’t believe that prescription drugs are harmful. Easy access to parents’ and grandparents’ leftover medicines is just throwing gasoline on the fire.”

Over-prescribed, adverse effects and “dosage changed by doctor” are the top reasons medications are most frequently left unused by patients, according to a study by Daniel D. Maeng (right), research investigator, Geisinger Center for Health Research.

The goal of the study, published in the most recent Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, was to determine what medications most frequently are left unused by patients, how much is left unused and how these medications are disposed of among Medicare beneficiaries.

The data were gathered by using secondary data analysis combining insurance claims and telephone survey data of Medicare Advantage members with Part D coverage.

Results indicate that of the 247 medications reported being left unused by patients, the most common medications were those for pain (15 percent), hypertension (14 percent), antibiotics (11 percent) and psychiatric disorders (9 percent). Approximately 15 percent of unused medications were controlled substances. The reasons for being unused varied by drug type.
More alarming, only approximately 11 percent of unused medication was disposed of via drug take-back programs, whereas the majority was kept in a cabinet (55 percent), thrown in the trash (14 percent), or flushed down the toilet (9 percent).

In addition to contributing to abuse and accidental overdose by children and teens, improper disposal of unused prescription medications also has the potential to harm the environment.

Community-level interventions like Geisinger Health System’s medication take-back program are designed to improve prescription efficiency and patient awareness of appropriate disposal methods particularly of controlled substances. Thanks to the program, community members are able to return unused or expired prescriptions, including narcotics, for safe and eco-friendly disposal.

Medication take-back boxes are currently available at the Bush Pavilion and Knapper Clinic Pharmacies at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville and CareSite Pharmacy in Dallas. Over the next several months, Geisinger plans to partner with community organizations to install additional medication take-back boxes throughout central and northeast PA.

About Geisinger
Geisinger Health System is an integrated health services organization widely recognized for its innovative use of the electronic health record and the development of innovative care delivery models such as ProvenHealth Navigator® and ProvenCare®. As one of the nation’s largest health service organizations, Geisinger serves more than 3 million residents throughout 45 counties in central, south-central and northeast Pennsylvania, and also in southern New Jersey with the addition of AtlantiCare, a National Malcolm Baldrige Award recipient. The physician-led system is comprised of approximately 30,000 employees, including nearly 1,600 employed physicians, 12 hospital campuses, two research centers and a 510,000-member health plan, all of which leverage an estimated $8.9 billion positive impact on the Pennsylvania economy. Geisinger has repeatedly garnered national accolades for integration, quality and service. In addition to fulfilling its patient care mission, Geisinger has a long-standing commitment to medical education, research and community service. For more information, visit


CONTACT: Betse Humphrey, 570-214-9960,