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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Legal Issues Relating to the Disposal of Dispensed Controlled Substances

Brian T. Yeh
Legislative Attorney

According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the intentional use of prescription drugs for non-medical purposes is the fastest-growing drug problem in the country and the second-most common form of illicit drug abuse among teenagers in the United States, behind marijuana use. Young adults and teenagers may find their parents' prescription drugs in unsecured medicine cabinets or other obvious locations in the home, or they may retrieve expired or unwanted medication from the trash. It is believed that properly disposing of unwanted medications would help prevent prescription drug abuse by reducing the accessibility and availability of such drugs. Yet throwing prescription medications into the trash or flushing them down the toilet may not be environmentally responsible. In response, many local communities and states have implemented pharmaceutical disposal programs (often referred to as drug "takeback" programs) that collect unused and unwanted medications from patients for incineration or other method of destruction that complies with federal and state laws and regulations, including those relating to public health and the environment.

Prescription drugs may be categorized as either controlled substance medication or noncontrolled substance medication. Pharmaceutical controlled substances, such as narcotic pain relievers OxyContin® and Vicodin®, are among the most commonly abused prescription drugs. However, community take-back programs usually only accept non-controlled substance medication, in compliance with the federal Controlled Substances Act. This statute comprehensively governs all distributions of controlled substances, and it currently does not allow for a patient to transfer a controlled substance to another entity for any purpose, including disposal of the drug. (Federal regulations provide a limited exception to this general prohibition— local law enforcement may obtain a waiver from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to collect unused controlled substances from patients and destroy them.) As a consequence, patients seeking to reduce the amount of unwanted controlled substances in their possession have few alternative disposal options beyond discarding or flushing them.

The 111th Congress has been interested in developing ways for patients to dispose of unused or unwanted pharmaceuticals that are efficient, legal, and environmentally friendly. Several pieces of legislation have been introduced that would amend the Controlled Substances Act to create a framework governing disposal of controlled substances that have been dispensed to patients, with regulations to be promulgated by the Attorney General, including the Safe Drug Disposal Act of 2009 (H.R. 1191, S. 1336), the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2009 (H.R. 1359, S. 1292), the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010 (S. 3397), and the Safe Drug Disposal Act of 2010 (H.R. 5809). The House Energy and Commerce Committee ordered H.R. 5809 to be reported on July 28, 2010, while the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S. 3397 on July 29, 2010. This report describes the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act and its implementing regulations that relate to patient disposal of unwanted prescription medication, as well as provides an analysis of the pending legislation.

Date of Report: July 30, 2010
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: R40548
Price: $29.95

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