Disposing the Opioid Problem

Removing leftover prescription pills from circulation can play a vital role in fighting our current drug crisis

America has an opioid problem – that much is clear. More than 29,000 people died from opioid overdoses last year; for comparison, not quite 34,000 died in car crashes. What’s more, the problem is not even driven primarily by illicit drugs like heroin, but rather by abuse of legal opioids that are prescribed as painkillers. There’s often a stepping stone effect where when access to painkillers becomes limited, those struggling with substance abuse move toward lower-cost, more potent illegal alternatives. This epidemic of overdoses has increasingly been characterized as a public health crisis.

Opioid Death in SC

Source: Division of Drug Control, SC. DHEC. July 2015 

Surprisingly, improper pill storage and disposal plays an outsized role in this crisis. A recent study from JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that roughly 60% of people who have been subscribed opioids in the past year had leftover pills, and 20% reported sharing their medication with another person. 


This widespread practice is one reason SCHA is supporting the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) and the Alliance for a Healthier SC in a campaign to install at least one prescription drug drop-box per county and promote those drop-boxes as easy places for people to discard opioids. 


Leading the way are the Greenville Health System and MUSC, both of which have collaborated with their on-campus police departments to establish discrete drop-boxes for unused prescription drugs. Several other hospitals have made personal calls to sheriff’s departments to make them aware of the opportunity to get free prescription drug drop-boxes through a recent CVS Pharmacy grant that is awarding up to 1,000 free receptacles around the country. Spartanburg, Greenwood, Georgetown, and Lexington Counties are among those who have already taken advantage of the program.  


SCHA encourages South Carolinians who live in one of the many counties in South Carolina (see the map below) without a drop-box to consider contacting your local police department to urge them to take advantage of the current offer from CVS. 


You can find talking points for your letter or phone call here. For more information about the CVS grant, visit their website here


Working together, communities across our state can make an impact on this deadly epidemic.