American Medicine Chest Challenge: Safe Disposal of Prescription Drugs

image of medicineA one day seizure of 10 tons of dangerous drugs would be deemed a successful bust by any law enforcement agency; however, November 13, 2010 marked a national raid of an unlikely source—the bathroom medicine cabinet! The American Medicine Chest Challenge (AMCC) is a national public health initiative centered on a one day event to collect and safely dispose of unused and expired medicine stored in U.S. homes, which according to recent reports is the number one source of drugs among young teens.

According to the DEA, 15 percent of teens abuse prescription drugs regularly, due in part to the easy accessibility of drugs like Xanax and Oxycontin. An amazing 70 percent of abusers admit using drugs that were meant for family and friends. One such teen, Corey Stevens, started stealing unused Oxycontin pills, prescribed for a grandparent. Finding himself addicted, Stevens escalated to stealing medication when in the homes of neighbors and friends. Stevens, currently in drug rehab, appeared at the annual kick off of the AMCC to warn others about the dangers of unsecured prescription drugs and to encourage families to adopt smart disposal policies for solid and liquid medications.
According to AMCC’s master mind, Angelo Valente, the initiative shines a spotlight not only on home security but raises public awareness and attention on prescription drug abuse. He said, “The goals of AMCC were clear: to get the word out about prescription drug misuse and encourage the five easy steps to secure medications.”

These steps include taking an inventory of medications, properly securing medicine chests, taking medicine only as prescribed by your doctor, disposing of unused and expired medicines and most importantly, talking to family members about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

Through a website, and TV and radio ads, the AMCC disseminates valuable facts on how medications affect the water table—clarifying which medications are suitable for flushing—and provides tips on how everyday household items such as coffee grounds and cat litter can be used to prevent the improper use of discarded medications. More information about safe home disposal is available on

This year’s nationwide event was built on the success of a 2009 statewide pilot program in New Jersey. That event, run in conjunction with the Sheriffs’ Association of New Jersey and Drug Enforcement Administration–New Jersey Division, netted over 9,000 lbs of prescription drugs with a street market value of over 35 million dollars. “With the overwhelming response to the statewide event, replicating this successful model was a vital step in gaining national momentum,” said Valente.

A crucial component of the initiative was national and local partnership: Collaboration with PhRMA and the American College of Emergency Physicians, who highlighted the dangers of this national epidemic, complemented local partnerships with law enforcement, community groups, direct social service agencies, and the media to create a multi-tiered approach to publicize collection and drop-off points, provide education on drug treatment options and disseminate materials and resources for parents and schools.

Participation among law enforcement agencies became pivotal as over 50 police departments across the country entered into agreements to not only act as collection sites but to ensure that local, state, and federal disposal guidelines were adhered to.

One such partnership involved the Mt. Vernon Police Department in Iowa, who in coordination with pharmacies, health services, and community groups collected over 20lbs of dangerous prescription drugs from neighboring homes. Chief Mark Winder from Mt. Vernon PD commented on the collaboration of all stakeholders as vital in the success of the collection. “The collection of prescription drugs needed to be carefully orchestrated to ensure that these drugs have no opportunity to end up in the wrong hands—this was only possible with coordination with local groups working with us to encourage the community to act.” Mt. Vernon PD was also able to garner the assistance of a local pharmacy that donated funds to ensure that a large banner was available to hang in town to get the word out about the event. Chief Winder, buoyed by the community support for the event, is eager to participate in AMCC in 2011.

National public health initiatives such as the American Medicine Chest Challenge mark a new era in law enforcement and community collaboration, by proactively addressing a potential threat lurking in U.S. homes. With AMCC 2011 in the planning stages, long term success will be measured by millions of parents, grandparents, and caregivers looking at their medicine chest through new eyes and in turn saving more teen lives.

-Lydia Nylander
Grant Monitoring Specialist
The COPS Office


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