3 Indest-2009-2By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Looking to improve the prescription drug abuse epidemic in the United States, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced September 8, 2014, that it would permit patients to return their unused prescription medications to pharmacies. This new rule, covering all types of prescription drugs, will give patients the option of mailing unused prescriptions to an authorized collector using packaging provided by the pharmacy.

Hopefully this will help to eliminate many of the problematic situations that pharmacists and physicians found themselves in when they accumulated returned or unused medications from patients for destruction.

This move intends to address the rising number of injuries and deaths associated with controlled substance drugs, particularly opioids. Reducing the stockpile of unneeded prescription drugs from American homes will limit teenagers’ accessibility to their parents’ medications and reduce burglaries for such substances. According to The New York Times, this demographic is known to be the most prevalent abuser of such controlled substances.

To read the full story from The New York Times, click here.

Prior Methods of Prescription Drug Disposal.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, patients were only allowed to dispose of unused drugs themselves or surrender them to law enforcement. Personal disposal of controlled substances typically means flushing pills down a toilet or throwing them in the trash. Because this can pose a risk toward animals and clean drinking water, these methods are frowned upon by environmentalists and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Drug “take back” programs are another option when it comes to disposing of unused prescription drugs. These events are organized by the DEA and are held twice a year at local police departments across the country. During these programs, citizens can anonymously drop off any unused prescription drugs. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that a nationwide event in April 2014 brought in 390 tons of prescription drugs at more than 6,000 sites. In the past four years, these collection events have removed from circulation more than 4.1 million pounds of prescription medication from across the country.

Although these events prove successful, many healthcare professionals are optimistic for the bigger impact the pharmacy “take back” programs may have. Providing consumers convenient year-round access to medication disposals will be positive reinforcement to regularly dispose of unused prescription medications. This method is believed to be more likely to accomplish the mission of shrinking the pool of unused and potentially fatal controlled substances in American homes.

To read the full article from The Wall Street Journal, click here.

Ironing Out Details of the New Plan.

There are many logistics to consider to ensure these pharmaceutical “take back” programs will be successful. The programs will not be mandatory, as the decision to take part will be the under the sole discretion of each company. The pharmacies must voluntarily choose to register with the DEA in order to start receiving the leftover prescriptions. In the past, pharmacies have not generally wanted to accept the hassle of offering such a program. However, the DEA expects many pharmacies to jump on the bandwagon to showcase good-faith effort of keeping drugs out of the wrong hands.

DEA-approved organizations collecting the unused drugs will include hospital pharmacies, narcotic treatment programs, and companies contracted by other collectors to destroy controlled substances.

There are concerns circling the initiative. Some pharmacies do not have the resources required to accommodate incinerators, thus limiting the locations available to consumers. In addition, professionals are concerned with the lack of regulations listed in the new plan. There are no set requirements on how the prescriptions should be destroyed. The rules simply mandate that the drugs are altered into a permanent, irreversible state.

The burden of payment has also not been discussed or outlined in the new plan. Who will cover the cost of packaging and disposal has yet to be decided. Also, to be considered is the challenge of keeping the returned prescriptions safe until destruction. An unsecured, unmonitored return site containing stock piles of addictive drugs would be a gold mine for many addicts and criminals. Should a theft occur at one of these drop-off receptacles, who would be held liable? The American Pharmacists Association has already expressed concern of pharmacy legal liability.

The biggest obstacle of all, however, may be convincing the general public that returning unused pills is a necessary moral obligation.


Would you participate in this type of prescription drug return program? As a pharmacist or someone who works at a pharmacy, what are your concerns with this take back program? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Consult With A Health Law Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Pharmacists and Pharmacies.

We routinely provide deposition coverage to pharmacists, pharmacies and other health professionals being deposed in criminal cases, negligence cases, civil cases or disciplinary cases involving other health professionals. We can review business referral arrangements and provide legal counsel on whether they are not in violation of federal and state anti-referral laws. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing physicians, physician assistants and other health professionals in investigations and at Board of Pharmacy hearings.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.


Barrett, Devlin. “U.S. to Allow Pharmacies to Take Back Unused Prescription Drugs.” The Wall Street Journal. (September 08, 2014). From: http://online.wsj.com/articles/u-s-to-allow-pharmacies-to-take-back-unused-prescription-drugs-1410186602

Saint Louis, Catherine. “D.E.A. to Allow Return of Unused Pills to Pharmacies.” The New York Times. (September 08, 2014). From: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/09/health/unused-pills-return-to-pharmacies.html?_r=0

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
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