Most San Diegans Using Medication Disposal Boxes, Take Back Days

More than 60 percent of San Diegans who get rid of their unwanted medications properly do it by taking them to permanent disposal boxes or take back days.

That is one of the findings from the 2018 Prescription Drug Disposal Survey. The results were announced today by local health and law enforcement officials, all members of the San Diego County Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force.

The survey, taken by nearly 3,300 San Diegans, also shows 45 percent have either flushed or thrown meds away in the trash, which is not an appropriate way to dispose of them in San Diego County because the region has established permanent prescription medication drop off boxes in multiple locations and conducts two take back events every year.

Furthermore, nearly 45 percent or respondents indicated they keep their medications long after their intended use or expiration date, also not recommended since they can be used for unintended purposes.

“Stockpiling medicines is not safe. Medications should be taken only as prescribed,” said Dr. Nathan Painter, an associate clinical professor with the UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Painter and some of his pharmacology students conducted the survey.

“(Medications) should never be shared. They should not be kept at home for future use,” added Painter.

Prescription drug abuse continues to be a major concern for communities across the country and San Diego County is no exception. Adding to the danger is the emergence of fake pharmaceuticals made with synthetic fentanyl and other substances and sold on the street as black market medications. According to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths in the United States continue to rise. More than 63,600 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016. Nearly two-thirds of these deaths (66 percent) involved a prescription or illicit opioid.

In 2016, there were 253 prescription drug-related deaths in San Diego County.

“All too often, many of those who end up addicted and dying, get their first exposure to these powerful opioids from home medicine cabinets,” said Alfredo Aguirre, director for Behavioral Health Services for the County Health and Human Services Agency. “They then move on to other substances, including heroin when their home supplies run dry. “We encourage people to safely dispose of their unused pharmaceuticals.”

The next Take Back Day will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, April 28. San Diegans can dispose of their medications anonymously. Call 800-882-9539 or go to for a location near you.

Drug treatment is also available through Live Well San Diego, the County vision for healthy, safe and thriving residents and communities. To speak with a trained counselor, call the County’s Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240.


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