The Wexner Medical Center installed a receptacle outside the Outpatient Pharmacy of the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute to collect unwanted or unused drugs. Credit: Courtesy of The Medical Center

Beside the entrance of the Outpatient Pharmacy at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute stands a container with a silver metal cover shaped like a mailbox.

The box isn’t there to receive mail; It’s part of a year-round Drug Take-Back Program launched by the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State that collects all expired and unwanted drugs from people within the community in a safe, effective way.

As the first health institution in Central Ohio implementing a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-approved drug drop-off initiative, the medical center seeks an approach to stop improper drug handling alongside drug misuse and addiction.

“The reason we emphasize the program is to really provide an additional avenue for patients to relieve opioids and other prescription drugs from their home and to reduce the risk of possible diversion or misuses,” said Robert Weber, administrator for pharmacy services at the medical center and assistant dean for medical center affairs.

Harrison G. Weed, chair of pharmacy and therapeutics executive committee and professor of internal medicine at the medical center, said people used to flush unwanted medicines down the toilet or sink, then abandoned leftovers would flow into and mix with rivers, polluting the water with drug ingredients that might be poisonous to the unaware consumers.

“Even the simple medications that can be purchased without prescription are toxic [after mixing with the drinking water],” Weed said. “And they are responsible for the deaths of children in the United States every year.”

The staff installed a camera nearby the receptacle in case of illegal activity, Weed said. Illegal substances such as marijuana and cocaine alongside legal items like inhalers, thermometers, batteries and medical devices are prohibited from being discarded.

Weed said it would cost a significant amount to destroy discarded medicine in an environmentally-friendly manner, however, he added that the medical center has a contract with a company that manages the destruction of medications.

At the end of the program, Weber said the medical center is required to report the weight of all abandoned substances and share the data to the DEA for statistical evaluation. Weed said the committee will scale up and make the program widely available if it is well-received.

“By measuring the number of people that come in versus the weight, we can tell whether or not the Drug Take-Back Program is effective,” Weber said. “My colleague tells me, for now, there is a steady traffic of people coming in and putting their medicines in there.”