"Secret shoppers" calling California drugstores to find out how to dispose of unneeded antibiotics and opioid painkillers were given bogus information more than half the time, a new study finds.
Even fewer stores provided correct information if the callers, who were pretending to be parents, called on weekends, the researchers discovered.
"The Food and Drug Administration [FDA] advises consumers about how to safely dispose of unneeded medicines and, because pharmacists can play an integral role in this conversation, the American Pharmacists Association says prescription medication disposal should follow FDA guidelines," explained researcher Dr. Rachel Selekman. She's a pediatric urologist at Children's National Hospital, in Washington, D.C.
"We found very few California pharmacies permitted take-back of unneeded medications. There was also a striking difference in the accuracy and completeness of drug disposal information depending on whether they answered the call on a weekday or a weekend. That suggests room for improvement," she said in a hospital news release.
For the study, the investigators called nearly 900 pharmacies from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from late February to late April in 2018.
The FDA recommends mixing unused medicines with unappealing substances, like kitty litter, and then placing it into a sealed container and tossing it in the trash.
Harmful drugs like opioids should be flushed down the sink or toilet, and some pharmacies will take back unused prescription medicines.
"Unused prescription medications can be misused by others and can result in accidental childhood poisonings," Selekman explained.
"The bottom line is that we often talk about how to address the problem of too many unused medications lingering in homes. There are many reasons this is a problem, but part of the problem is nobody knows what to do if they have too many prescription medicines," she said.
Among the drug stores the researchers called:
The report was published online Dec. 31 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
For more on getting rid of unused prescription drugs, head to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.