Drug disposal programs were seen as a significant step forward in the fight against the national opioid crisis when the DEA (United States Drug Enforcement Administration) announced that both pharmacies and police stations were being allowed to collect unused prescription drugs from the public to be destroyed. The Drug Take Back Programs that were instituted on individual state levels were seen as a positive response by the pharmacy profession to assist the general public to dispose of unwanted, unnecessary or expired medications. What the new law said was that a pharmacy could willingly choose to participate to become a designated authorized collection site by having a repository for the medications, plus having the ability to incinerate them or mail them back to the DEA. The theory behind the decision made by the DEA was centered around the fact that approximately 65% of all people who misused prescription painkillers and opioids obtained medications that had actually been originally prescribed by a doctor to someone else (National Survey on Drug Use and Health).
A Dismal Response By Pharmacies?
In theory the DEA’s decision made perfect sense. Where else should an individual go to dispose of their unused and unwanted prescription drugs? A pharmacy is obviously the logical choice for the public. However, as reported in 2015 by The New York Times, the pharmacy profession did not “embrace” the drug disposal and Take Back Programs with much enthusiasm. In fact, The Times actually called pharmacy’s response “insignificant”, plus revealed that a dismal one percent (1%) of all US pharmacies had even chosen to participate and establish drug disposal programs. They also pointed out that eight states still did not have drug disposal programs in place that allowed a pharmacy to even take back controlled substances from the public.
Additionally, just about everyone in the pharmacy profession came out publicly to state why they were not “thrilled” with the DEA’s decision. As pointed out in a 2015 article from Pharmacy Times, both APhA (The American Pharmacists Association) and NCPA (The National Community Pharmacists Association) both publicly opposed the regulation. So did the big chains, especially Walgreens and CVS. Here’s several of the reasons that everyone cited for there being major “push-back” and “hesitancy” by the pharmacy profession:
1. Cost – Whose paying for the collection, storage and disposal of the medications and drugs? Right now the burden of cost falls squarely on the shoulders of the individual pharmacies that choose to willingly participate.
2. Security – Whose going to store and guard the drugs? Whose responsible to make sure that they’re disposed of properly? Again, the participating pharmacies.
3. Liability – Whose job is it to document that the medications were received and disposed of? Those opposed to the new program claimed that they were obviously tasked with this responsibility and that they were already overburdened with the numerous job duties and “burdens” that pharmacy obviously requires.
4. Safety – How does each state’s individual solid and hazardous waste regulations, restrictions and laws apply to the medications taken back by pharmacies? Obviously a lot of discussion with attorneys and individual state legislators had to take place before questions such as these could be answered and worked out.
Progress Has Been Made
Although seen by many as just excuses that were all centered around economics and profitability, all of the reasons that pharmacies were slow to embrace the take back program noted above are legitimate concerns. Yet the opioid crisis is real as stated so long ago it now seems by the CDC. Just last October President Trump even directed the US Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency, leading to the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 (S.2680).
Since the NY Times article in 2015, there has been tremendous progress made in addressing the crisis and in “fighting the war against opioid addiction”. Federal and state resources have established several very helpful and informative websites for the public to be educated, informed and updated regarding the crisis:
– The CDC (Centers For Disease Control and Prevention) – Understanding the Epidemic
– The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) – What Do I Do With My Leftover Meds? The site actually has a state by state information section and guide.
– The FDA – Medicine Disposal: Questions And Answers
– The National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIH) – Opioid Overdose Crisis
– The DEA Diversion Control Division – Controlled Substance Public Disposal Locations Tool
– The NCPA (National Community Pharmacy Association) – Medication Disposal Locator
– The NABP (National Association of Boards of Pharmacy) – Drug Disposal Locator
– The National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI) – Law Enforcement Drug Take Back Locations
Kudos To the State Of Pennsylvania
High praise should be given to the State of Pennsylvania for their proactive and ongoing efforts in the Drug Take Back Program within their state. Although we are perhaps not aware of the efforts taking place in all fifty states, the Pennsylvania State Board of Pharmacy sent an email just one week ago to all pharmacists on behalf of the PA Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs to encourage participation in the program. So far there are 732 medication disposal boxes located throughout the state. In Pennsylvania so far this year, more than 52,000 pounds (or 26 tons) of returned medications have been collected and destroyed. Since the initiation of the state’s take-back efforts, over 395,000 pounds (or 198 tons) has been collected been destroyed.
About Healthcare Consultants Pharmacy Staffing
HCC has been the nationally renowned pharmacy consulting firm of choice for over 28 years now. Contact us today if you have questions about the drug disposal program or your state’s Drug Take Back Program, or to see how our Pharmacy Consulting services can help you improve your business right now, plus be ready for the future. With a full-time staff of in-house Pharmacy Consultants and specialists, HCC can answer any questions that you may have in all areas of your business. Contact us online or call us today at 800-642-1652 for a free consultation