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FDA News Release

FDA launches public education campaign to encourage safe removal of unused opioid pain medicines from homes

“Remove the Risk” to raise awareness about proper disposal of prescription opioids

For Immediate Release:


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced the launch of a new education campaign to help Americans understand the important role they play in removing and properly disposing of unused prescription opioids from their homes. This new initiative is part of the FDA’s continued efforts to address the nationwide opioid crisis and aims to help decrease unnecessary exposure to opioids and prevent new addiction. The “Remove the Risk” campaign is targeting women ages 35-64, who are most likely to oversee household health care decisions and often serve as the gatekeepers to opioids and other prescription medications in the home.

“The epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose is one of the greatest public health tragedies we’re facing as a nation, and no community is immune,” said Amy Abernethy, M.D., principal deputy commissioner at the FDA. “We know that many people who misuse prescription opioids report getting them from a friend or family member. If every household removed prescription opioids once they’re no longer medically needed for their prescribed purpose it would have a major impact on the opioid crisis’ hold on American families and communities.”

Prescription opioids are powerful, pain-reducing medicines that can help patients successfully manage pain when prescribed for the right condition and when used properly. When misused or abused, however, these drugs can cause serious harm, including addiction, overdose and death. In 2017, retail pharmacies dispensed more than 191 million opioid prescriptions to almost 60 million patients, either as first-time prescriptions or refills. As many as 90% of these patients reported not finishing what was prescribed to them, potentially leaving millions of unused prescription opioids in medicine cabinets and elsewhere in U.S. homes if not disposed of properly. During that same year, 47,600 people died from an overdose involving opioids. According to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, half of people who misused prescription opioids got them from a friend or family member.

As part of the “Remove the Risk” campaign, the FDA launched a new toolkit of materials, available in English and Spanish, which include: television, radio and print public service announcements (PSAs); fact sheets; social media graphics and posts; and website badges that can be used by individuals, health care providers and organizations. These materials are being made available free of charge to news media, health care providers, consumer groups, and other organizations working to combat the opioids crisis. The agency also recently updated information on safe disposal of unused prescription opioids on its Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know webpage, which can help individuals determine the best disposal option for their situation.

“Far too many Americans, both teens and adults, are gaining access to opioids for the first time from the medicine cabinets of their parents, relatives and friends. Millions of unused opioid pills should not be readily available and easily accessible in our homes,” said Douglas Throckmorton, M.D., deputy director of regulatory programs in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Our ‘Remove the Risk’ campaign serves to both educate Americans on this issue and provide them with easy-to-follow steps to take so they can immediately remove prescription opioids from their homes and avoid unintentionally contributing to the risk of misuse or abuse of these drugs by a friend or loved one.”

Medicine take-back options are the preferred way to dispose of most types of unneeded medicines safely, including opioids. Authorized locations may be in retail pharmacies; hospital or clinic pharmacies; and law enforcement facilities. Some authorized collection sites may also offer mail-back programs or “drop-boxes” to assist patients in safe disposal of their unused medicines. The next National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is on April 27, 2019.

Additionally, the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities (SUPPORT) Act gave the FDA the authority to require manufacturers to develop disposal technologies (such as a mail-back pouches) to make it even easier for patients to get unused medicines out of their homes.

This is just one of the many efforts being made to combat the opioids tragedy. The FDA remains committed to addressing this national crisis on all fronts, with a significant focus on decreasing exposure to opioids and preventing new addiction; supporting the treatment of those with opioid use disorder; fostering the development of novel pain treatment therapies; and taking action against those who contribute to the illegal importation and sale of opioid products.

About the Department of Health and Human Services Strategy to Combat America’s Crisis of Addiction: The opioid epidemic is one of the Department’s top priorities. In 2017, HHS launched a 5-point Opioid Strategy to empower local communities on the frontlines. This strategy consists of better (1) prevention, treatment and recovery services; (2) data on the epidemic; (3) pain management; (4) targeting of overdose-reversing drugs; and (5) research on pain and addiction.

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Lyndsay Meyer / Deborah Kotz
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