Document Type




Publication Date



Oxford Academic

Source Publication

Pain Medicine

Source ISSN




The opioid epidemic is a national public health emergency that requires a comprehensive approach to reduce opioid-related deaths. Proper and timely disposal of unused prescription opioids is one method to deter improper use of these medications and prevent overdose. The objective of this study was to understand how recommendations for disposing of unused prescription opioids, including both take-back programs and toilet disposal, are communicated to the public.


Two hundred sixty-three US newspaper articles published between January 1, 2014, and June 30, 2017, containing information on opioids and take-back programs were found using LexisNexis. Using content analysis, articles were coded for the presentation of and recommendation for opioid disposal practices, beliefs about environmental harm from toilet disposal, and additional strategies to reduce opioid supply. The entity responsible for the statement was also captured.


Take-back programs were presented as a recommended disposal strategy for unused prescription opioids in 88.6% of coded articles. Toilet disposal was presented as a recommended disposal strategy for unused prescription opioids in 3.4% of articles and as harmful to the environment in 16.0% of articles. Individuals from health care, government, and law enforcement were primarily involved in discussing opioid disposal practices.


Although toilet disposal is recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for disposal of unused prescription opioids when a take-back program is not readily available, it was infrequently presented or recommended in news media articles. These results highlight the importance of improving communication of FDA guidelines for opioid disposal in the media, particularly by health care providers, government employees, and law enforcement officials.


Accepted version. Pain Medicine, Vol. 20, No. 9 (September 2019): 1711-1716. DOI. © 2019 Oxford Academic. Used with permission.

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