HELENA – Montana leaders are taking new steps to make it easier for people around the state to dispose of unused prescription drugs.
Gov. Steve Bullock announced Thursday that the state will use a $730,000 federal grant to distribute 212 metal collection boxes to Montana pharmacies, at no cost to them.
“One of the best ways to address opioid abuse is through the safe, convenient and proper disposal of unused medications,” Bullock said in a statement. “This is a terrific opportunity, and we’re pleased to be partnering with pharmacies across the state to distribute the collection boxes in the coming weeks.”
The 38-gallon boxes are part of the MedSafe Medication Disposal System, created by Sharps Compliance, Inc. Each contains a plastic liner. Once the box fills up, pharmacy owners will be able to remove the liner, seal it and send it back to Sharps. The company will then incinerate the medications – the Drug Enforcement Administration’s preferred method of disposal.
Leaders with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services say many locations don’t have convenient access to their own incinerator, so this program will vastly increase the number of places that can host a collection box.
“There are already sites where folks can take back their drugs,” said Zoe Barnard, administrator of DPHHS’ Addictive and Mental Disorders Division. “But we want this to be like recycling, and we figure that the easier it is to access a prescription drug box, the more likely folks are to return medications that are unused.”
In a statement, DPHHS director Sheila Hogan pointed to statistics from the Journal of the American Medical Association that show well over half of patients nationwide don’t finish their prescribed pain medication, and that less than 10 percent of them dispose of the drugs safely.
Barnard said, in Montana, one in seven high school students reported taking prescriptions that weren’t intended for them.
“We want to make sure that we protect vulnerable people, especially adolescents,” she said.
Leaders hope that bringing more collection boxes to places like pharmacies will make returning unused prescriptions more normal and easier to remember.
“The beauty of having prescription drug boxes at drugstores is that folks are going to be going there a lot anyway,” Barnard said. “So this should make the return process simpler for folks.”
To receive a collection box, a pharmacy must register with the DEA – a process state leaders say should be simple. They will also need to contact Christine Steele with DPHHS, at (406) 444-1202 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Montana has about 360 pharmacies. Barnard said they will distribute boxes on a first-come, first-served basis. If they receive more requests than they have boxes, she said they will see whether they can provide additional ones.
DPHHS leaders said, so far, 21 boxes have already been requested.