Four years ago, we wrote an article about recycling prescription drugs to be used by patients who don't have health insurance or cannot afford their medications. This has remained a popular post on our blog, and people frequently search our site for information about prescription recycling and/or disposal programs in Colorado. So I wanted to write an updated post with information that we've come across in the years since we published that first article.
Colorado is one of a few states that has a cancer drug repository program where cancer patients or their caregivers can donate unused (but sealed in original packaging) cancer medications. These drugs are then used by uninsured and underinsured cancer patients in Colorado who have a prescription for the donated drug. This program is specific to drugs used to treat cancer and cancer side effects however - it does not accept any other type of medications.
In 2010, following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the Colorado legislature approved an act (Senate Bill 10-115) to allow unused medications to be donated to nonprofit entities that have "the express purpose of providing medications, medical devices, or medical supplies for the relief of victims who are in urgent need as a result of natural or other types of disasters." The driving force here was the desperate need for medications in Haiti, but the wording of the act allows the usage of donated medications to help people who are in any disaster area. In addition, the bill states that the unused medications may also be donated to "a practitioner authorized by law to prescribe the medication." A pdf summarizing the healthcare-related legislation that passed in 2010 notes that "Any items returned may be re-dispensed to another patient or donated to a practitioner with prescription authority or non-profit entity serving disaster victims."
All of the prescription drug donation programs I've come across - in Colorado and elsewhere - require that the medication be in its original, manufacturer-sealed packaging. Unfortunately, that means that drugs packaged by a pharmacist in the ubiquitous amber-colored plastic bottles are not eligible for donation as far as I can tell. But medications that are in blister packs or sealed vials can be donated - check with your pharmacist or doctor for more information.
We recently got a comment on our original post by a health care provider who works for a home health organization, letting us know about the Colorado Medication Take Back Pilot Project. The project has collection centers at several King Soopers and City Market locations, as well as Denver Health and Tri County Health Department offices. The medication take back program is definitely preferable to flushing unused medications or leaving them in a medicine cabinet where they may result in an accident poisoning. However, the medications gathered by the take-back program are safely disposed of rather than redistributed, so ideally it should be used for medications that are not eligible for donation. If you have medications that are expired or not still in their original sealed packaging (and thus not eligible for donation), the Colorado Medication Take Back Pilot Project is a great way to safely get rid of your unused medications.
If anyone has additional information about programs that are available in Colorado for medication re-use, please add a comment with the details.