U.S. to Allow Pharmacies to Take Back Unused Prescription Drugs


Federal authorities will soon allow pharmacies and clinics to take back customers’ unused prescription drugs such as opioid painkillers in an effort to get addictive medications off the street.

The change, to be issued in new Drug Enforcement Administration regulations effective next month, will address a long-standing complaint from people fighting opioid addiction that government rules make it difficult to safely dispose of unused pills.

Under current rules for controlled substances, even a pharmacy that fills a painkiller prescription can’t take back unused pills. Instead, consumers can flush unused drugs or throw them out in the trash, though both those options are discouraged because of environmental worries. They can also hand in unused pills to law-enforcement agencies that participate in special drug-take-back programs.

While pharmacies haven’t generally wanted the hassle of being responsible for old pills, some are expected to heed the government’s call, in part to show they are making a good-faith effort to keep drugs out of the wrong hands.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced the new rule in a video posted on the Justice Department’s website, noting that close to four in 10 teens who misused prescription drugs obtained them from family medicine cabinets. “These shocking statistics illustrate that prescription drug addiction and abuse represent nothing less than a public health crisis,” he said in the video message. “Every day, this crisis touches—and devastates—the lives of Americans from every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life.”

The new rule, which covers all prescription drugs, will also allow people to mail unused pills for collection. It wasn’t immediately clear how many businesses would offer the service to its customers. Any pills collected will be destroyed.

Hydrocodone pills, also known as Vicodin, are arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The DEA runs its own pill-take-back events. A nationwide effort in April brought in 390 tons of prescription drugs at more than 6,000 sites, according to the Justice Department.

CVS Health Corp. CVS -0.58% is considering the new regulations, a spokeswoman said, noting the company already participates in drug take-back programs involving local police departments and the DEA. The chain also offers customers postage-paid envelopes to mail back unused pills.


Josh Sandberg

Josh Sandberg is the President and CEO of Ortho Spine Partners and sits on several company and industry related Boards. He also is the Creator and Editor of OrthoSpineNews.

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