New DEA rules expand opportunities for consumers to return unused controlled substances

September 14, 2014
Area(s) of Interest: Drug Prescribing/Dispensing Patient Care 

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced Monday that it would allow consumers to return unused controlled substances to approved facilities, including hospitals with onsite pharmacies and retail pharmacies. Under the new rules, consumers and their families will also be allowed to mail unused prescription drugs to authorized collection agencies using packages that are expected to be available at pharmacies, libraries and senior centers. These new regulations will go into effect October 9.

Up to now, controlled substances could not legally be returned to pharmacies. Instead, the Controlled Substances Act allowed patients only to dispose of the drugs themselves or to surrender them to law enforcement. Twice every year, consumers could return them to locations with a law enforcement presence during a ‘take back’ event organized by the DEA. The next National Prescription Drug Take Back Day event is slated to take place on Saturday, September 27, 2014. These events have removed approximately 4.1 million pounds of medications – this compared with 3.9 billion prescriptions filled at pharmacies in 2013 – according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Abuse of prescription drugs, including pain relievers, continues to be a significant problem in United States. In California, 4.7 percent of persons aged 12 or older nationwide reported having used pain relievers nonmedically in the past year according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health. SAMHSA data also reveals that 69 percent of people abusing prescription pain relievers got them through friends or relatives, a statistic that includes raiding the family medicine cabinet.

This is a voluntary program that will require some significant investment from potential collectors. The California Medical Association (CMA) hopes that this will expand opportunities for consumers to rid themselves of unwanted medications.

The rules will not impact how physicians dispose of unused medications in their place of practice.

To read the rule in the Federal Register, click here.


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