Pharmacies Can Collect Unused Prescription Drugs Under New DEA Regulation


Pharmacies will soon be legally authorized to accept and safely dispose of patients' unused prescription medications.

Under a new Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulation aimed at curbing the rising rates of opioid abuse, pharmacies will soon be legally authorized to accept and safely dispose of patients’ unused prescription medications.

In a video announcing the new rule, which was issued today and is set to take effect next month, Attorney General Eric Holder explained the expanded drug take-back program will allow patients to mail any unused prescription medications to authorized collectors using pre-paid packages obtained from their local pharmacy and other locations.

Additionally, retail pharmacies and hospitals and clinics with an on-site pharmacy can voluntarily conduct take-back events, administer mail-back programs, and maintain collection receptacles for unused prescription drugs. The rule also expands the authority of retail pharmacies to provide collection receptacles at long-term care facilities.

Under the current policy, patients cannot legally return unused opioids and other drugs designated as controlled substances to pharmacies. In fact, the only options patients currently have for disposing of unused prescription medications are to flush or throw them away, or to return them to law-enforcement agencies during national drug take-back programs.

Although American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Executive Vice President and CEO Thomas E. Menighan commented that his organization has “long supported the role of pharmacists in helping the public get unused or expired medications out of their homes,” he expressed concerns that “issues with safety, liability and cost that may affect participation of pharmacists and pharmacies.”

Similarly, National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) CEO B. Douglas Hoey, RPh, MBA, stated that his organization is “still evaluating all of the implications for independent community pharmacies.”

“It’s important to note the program is completely voluntary for both retail and LTC pharmacies, as NCPA requested and the law required,” Hoey added. “Independent community pharmacists will review the DEA policy and decide which, if any, of the allowed disposal options for controlled substances are feasible at their particular pharmacy, taking into account the community in which they practice. One size does not fit all, so we appreciate the DEA outlining several allowable disposal options.”

Hoey pointed out that community pharmacists have been “industry leaders in this area when it comes to the disposal of non-controlled substances” for years, and he emphasized that more than 200,000 pounds of unused prescription medications have been collected for disposal through the NCPA Foundation’s Dispose My Meds program to date.

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