Unused Medication Disposal Patterns : Medicare Patient Survey

A recent study was conducted to examine what medications were most often left unused, how much is left unused, and how these medications were disposed, focusing mainly among Medicare beneficiaries. The study included a telephone survey conducted by a survey research center. This survey included 721 Medicare Advantage members who had Part D coverage as of December 31, 2013 and had completed the telephone survey in May 2014. There were 2994 reported medications. Out of these 2994 medications, 247 (8%) were reported being left unused by patients. Out of this 247 unused medication, 15% were for pain, 14% for hypertension, 11% for antibiotics, and 9% for psychiatric disorders. Some reasoning given by these patients included “dosage changed by doctor”, as well as over-prescribing and adverse effects. Surprisingly, only 11% of the unused medication were disposed of via drug take-back programs, whereas a majority (55%) were kept in a cabinet. The other methods included thrown in the trash (14%) and flushed down the toilet (9%). This study concluded that the lack of patient adherence alone can not be enough to explain the large percentage in unused medications. Community-level interventions must be in place to improve adherence as well as reduce improper disposal of unused medications.

I believe that this study is important because it puts data to the very important problem of improper disposal. I often have geriatric patients bringing their prescription vials to our presentations and visits. Some, if not most, of these vials turn out to be months or years old and are still filled with medication. It is also interesting to see what type of medications are often reported unused, such as antibiotic medication.


Maeng DD., Snyder RC., Medico CJ., et al Unused medications and disposal patterns at home: Findings from a Medicare patient survey and claims data J Am Pharm Assoc 2016;56:41–46