Tuesday, September 9, 2014

New federal rules can make prescription drug disposal more convenient

Until this week, the federal Controlled Substances Act restricted who can dispose of unwanted prescription drugs/controlled substances.  People who wanted to rid themselves of unwanted pharmaceutical controlled substances could give them to law enforcement.  Most people flushed their unused drugs down the toilet, threw them in the trash, or kept them in the household medicine cabinet.  Pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and hospitals were banned from accepting them. 

These limitations made it difficult for people to get rid of their prescription medications in a way that is both safe for people and the environment often resulting in the accumulation of the substances in home medicine cabinets.  Since home medicine cabinets are easily accessible to teenagers, these drugs can be easily obtained for abuse, diversion (sharing, selling), and accidental poisoning. 

To make it easier for people to safely rid their homes of unwanted prescription drugs, the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act was enacted in 2010.  Between then and now, the Drug Enforcement Agency has been developing rules to guide the Act’s implementation.  Their rules were released this week and include the following:

1. People may get rid of unwanted prescription drugs through:
  • Take-back events;
  • Mail-back programs;
  • Collection receptacles. 

2. In addition to law enforcement agencies, the following organizations can collect prescription drugs:
  • Drug manufacturers and distributors;
  • Narcotic treatment programs;
  • Hospitals/clinics with on-site pharmacies;
  • Retail pharmacies.

The rules define how these organizations can collect and dispose of the drugs they collect.  The rules do not mandate any of these options so organizations and communities will need to take the lead in establishing programs voluntarily.  

This is good news for King County’s secure medicine return program which calls for retail pharmacies to have collection receptacles placed in their businesses, allowing for people to dispose of their medications where they likely obtained them.  This is also good news for communities that want to establish take-back programs locally in partnership with organizations other than law enforcement.  

More information about the new rules, including a fact sheet for the general public, is available through the DEA website.

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