Hospitals, pharmacies, addiction treatment clinics, and long-term care facilities will be allowed to collect unwanted pharmaceutical drugs – including opioid painkillers – under new rules being adopted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The new regulations, which take effect October 9th, are aimed at reducing the theft and diversion of unused pharmaceutical drugs – which often accumulate in medicine cabinets because patients don’t know what to do with them.
“These new regulations will expand the public’s options to safely and responsibly dispose of unused or unwanted medications,” said DEA Administrator Leonhart. “The new rules will allow for around-the-clock, simple solutions to this ongoing problem. Now everyone can easily play a part in reducing the availability of these potentially dangerous drugs.”
Until now, government regulations made no legal provision for patients to rid themselves of unwanted controlled substances except to give them to law enforcement. Pharmacies, doctors and hospitals were prohibited from accepting them – so most people flushed their unused drugs down the toilet, threw them in the trash, or kept them in unlocked medicine cabinets.
“Unused medications in homes create a public health and safety concern, because they are highly susceptible to accidental ingestion, theft, misuse, and abuse,” the DEA said in a statement.
“More than two-thirds (70%) of people who misuse prescription painkillers for the first time report obtaining the drugs from friends or relatives, including from the home medicine cabinet.”
Nearly seven million Americans abuse legal pharmaceutical controlled substances, almost twice the number that abuse illegal drugs such cocaine, heroin, and inhalants combined. Nearly 110 Americans die every day from drug-related overdoses, with about half of those overdoses involving opioid painkillers or heroin.
According to a recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over half of the prescription painkillers used illicitly in 2012 were obtained from a friend or relative for free. The painkillers that were bought were twice as likely to be purchased from a friend or relative than a drug dealer.
“Every day, I hear from another parent who has tragically lost a son or daughter to an opioid overdose. No words can lessen their pain,” said Michael Botticelli, Acting Director of National Drug Control Policy. “But we can take decisive action, like the one we’re announcing today, to prevent more lives from being cut short far too soon. We know that if we remove unused painkillers from the home, we can prevent misuse and dependence from ever taking hold. These regulations will create critical new avenues for addictive prescription drugs to leave the home and be disposed of in a safe, environmentally friendly way.”
The new rules – which are voluntary – allow DEA registrants (drugs manufacturers, distributors, narcotic treatment programs, retail pharmacies, and hospitals/clinics with an on-site pharmacy) to become authorized collectors. They can have a drug collection receptacle at their registered location or accept the drugs through mail-back programs.
In recent years the DEA has promoted National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days. Over 2,100 tons of unwanted medication have been collected at over 6,000 sites manned by law enforcement officials. Law enforcement agencies will still be allowed to accept unwanted pharmaceutical drugs and hold take-back events.
The DEA will sponsor its last Take-Back Day on September 27th. The public may visit www.dea.gov or call 1-800-882-9539 to find a nearby collection site. The agency has no plans to sponsor more nationwide Take-Back Days once the newly authorized collectors are allowed to accept unwanted medication.