Safe disposal of meds tested in Wisconsin pilot program

September 15, 2008

Two counties in Wisconsin are using a reverse-distributor to round up unwanted drugs. The program, called Get the Meds Out, helps consumers in Waukesha and Winnebago Counties make free returns.

Key Points

A six-month medication-return pilot program that differs somewhat from other drug-disposal programs in the country has started in two counties in Wisconsin. Although other programs have asked patients to return unwanted drugs to pharmacies or to mail them back, the Wisconsin pilot involves the use of a reverse distributor, Capital Returns Inc. (CRI). The Milwaukee-based company provides pharmaceutical returns management services to more than 40 drug manufacturers, chain pharmacies, drug wholesalers, and other pharmacies in the country.

Under the pilot, called Get the Meds Out, when consumers in Waukesha and Winnebago Counties want to return an unused drug, they call a toll-free number at CRI ([800] 958-5859). CRI staff provide a prepaid shipping label and instructions on how to return their merchandise. Once residents receive their prepaid labels, they place their old medicine in a container for mailing back to CRI. Products received by CRI are then separated into their appropriate waste categories and incinerated. The entire process is free to consumers.

According to Mary Hendrickson, RPh, director for quality and regulatory affairs for CRI, the company has received more than 1,200 calls since the pilot started in May, or an average of about a dozen calls a day. There are more than 500,000 potential participants in the two-county area. At present, consumers cannot return controlled substances to CRI, so outdated narcotics are still flushed down the toilet.

She hopes that the pilot will be expanded to cover other counties down the line. Since a recent series of Associated Press articles drew attention to the presence of pharmaceutical waste in our water supply, many communities have initiated or expanded safe drug-disposal programs.

One of the most well-known programs is in Maine, where a drug mail-back initiative is also underway. Unlike the Wisconsin pilot, the Maine program involves pharmacies but does not make use of a reverse distributor. To get a fix on just how many drug take-back and disposal programs there are in this country, an online survey has been prepared by the Community Medical Foundation for Patient Safety at http://www.mainebenzo.org in Houston, the foundation strives to improve patient safety through environmentally friendly ways.