Most San Diegans Improperly Dispose of Expired or Unwanted Medication

picture with lots of prescription drugs

Results from a new survey on medication disposal show that San Diegans are concerned about environmental impacts of improper medication disposal, but 75 percent of local residents still flush and improperly dump their unwanted or expired medications.

The results of an online survey of over 2,000 San Diegans conducted in late January and February by the UC San Diego School of Pharmacy were released at a news conference organized by the San Diego County Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force.

“With 1,266 prescription drug overdoses in San Diego from 2010 to 2014, we must take steps to prevent the misuse and improper disposal of medication,” said County Supervisor Dave Roberts. “Prescriptions can be lifesaving, but, in the wrong hands, they can be deadly.”

Sherrie Rubin, a parent advocate and director of the HOPE2Gether Foundation, knows this issue too well.

“My son Aaron survived a prescription drug overdose in 2005 and today remains confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak or walk. Aaron and I travel to schools throughout our region to help students understand the dangers of prescription drug misuse and abuse.”

She urged the public to properly dispose of their unwanted medications to keep these powerful substances out of the hands of young people.

“That’s something we can change with a very simple action: get rid of your expired or unwanted medication in a safe way. The life you save may be a friend, neighbor or family member,” Rubin said.

The online survey was collected by a committee under the supervision of Dr. Nathan Painter, a faculty member at the UC San Diego School of Pharmacy.

“We designed a survey to get a baseline on public attitudes and knowledge about medication disposal,” said Dr. Painter. He said three-fourths of San Diegans still flush, throw in the trash or hold on to their expired or unwanted medications.

“I was surprised, but the vast majority of people say that their doctor or health care professional has not talked to them about proper disposal.

Painter observed that while most people don’t properly dispose of their unused medications, they believe that flushing or throwing meds in the trash negatively impacts the environment.

There are prescription drug collection boxes all over San Diego County for residents to get rid of medications safely.

Tom Lenox, a group supervisor with the Drug Enforcement Administration, said that almost all police and sheriff’s stations have such medication drop-off boxes in their lobby, open during business hours.

“We also have National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day coming up on Saturday, April 30. We’ll have at least 40 locations throughout the County where people can drive by, drop off, with no questions asked.”

Supervisor Roberts reminded the public that addiction is a serious problem, but that treatment is effective, and recovery is possible.

“If you need help today, call the County’s Access and Crisis Line at 1-888-724-7240,” Roberts said. “You can speak with a professional and get directed to the right place for help.”

More information about drug collection boxes, and the Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, is available at

José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact