DEA allows return of unused medications to pharmacies

John DrzycimskiIn a surprise move, Monday the  Drug Enforcement Administration announced it would permit consumers to return unused prescription medications like opioid painkillers to pharmacies. Patients and their relatives will now also be allowed to mail unused prescription drugs to an authorized collector using packages to be made available at pharmacies and other locations, like libraries and senior centers.

This new regulation,goes into effect in a month and covers controlled substances such as painkillers like OxyContin, stimulants like Adderall and depressants like Ativan, which until this new regulation could not legally be returned to any pharmacy.  The Controlled Substances Act allowed patients only to dispose of the drugs themselves or to surrender them to law enforcement.

“This is big news and long overdue,” said Dr. G. Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s baffling that it’s so easy to get a prescription for opioids and yet so difficult to dispose of these drugs safely,” he said.

According to a 2014 Partnership for Drug-Free Kids study, more than 70 percent of teenagers say it is easy to get prescription drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets. Injuries and deaths from prescription drug abuse, particularly opioids, have soared in recent years.

“The sooner we get those unused medications out of the home and medicine cabinets, the better and safer it is for everyone,” said Carmen A. Catizone, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

To minimize the risk that returned drugs might be stolen, the D.E.A. will require authorized collectors running mail-back programs to have and use an “on-site method of destruction to destroy returned packages.”

Unused meds gathered in earlier Take-back program  Photo Courtesy of VA Guard Public Affairs

Unused meds gathered in a Take-back program   Photo Courtesy of VA Guard Public Affairs

Organizations collecting unused drugs could be pharmacies, including those within a clinic or a hospital, narcotic treatment programs or so-called reverse distributors — companies contracted by other collectors to destroy controlled substances. Retail pharmacies or hospitals and clinics with on-site pharmacies may manage collection receptacles at long-term care facilities.

“With our opioid crisis, the level of overdoses we have and the amount of kids who are stealing these drugs, to be a good citizen you must get rid of your prescription drugs as soon as you’re finished with them,” said Gary Tennis, secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs in Pennsylvania.

To help get unused drugs off the streets, police stations in 49 states have installed roughly 1,500 permanent steel boxes made by MedReturn, a Wisconsin company.Great idea but these too have to be monitored closely by law enforcement to ensure they’re secure.

Some experts warn that there is no guarantee that pharmacies will establish take-back programs or set up collection receptacles, and that a number of issues must still be resolved.

There are concerns as to who will be responsible for handling the costs of these take-back programs as well as concerns regarding liability.Still, this is definitely a step in the right direction as far as getting unused drugs out of medicine cabinets, drawers and other unsafe storage spaces where teenagers can easily get their hands on them

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