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Thursday, August 26, 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 desirable. In response, many local communities and states have implemented pharmaceutical disposal programs (often referred to as drug "take-back" 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. 

Several bills have been introduced in the 111th Congress that would create a legal framework governing disposal of controlled substances that have been dispensed to patients. The bills with the most legislative action to date have been 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. The Senate passed S. 3397 by unanimous consent on August 3, 2010. The two measures have similar provisions. H.R. 5809 and S. 3397 would amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow a patient to deliver controlled substances to an entity that is authorized by federal law to dispose of them, providing that such disposal occurs in accordance with regulations issued by the Attorney General to prevent diversion of controlled substances. The Attorney General would be required, in developing those regulations, to take into consideration the public health and safety, as well as the ease and cost of drug disposal program implementation and participation by various communities. Also, the Attorney General would have discretion to issue regulations that authorize long-term care facilities to dispose of controlled substances on behalf of patients who reside in those facilities. Other related bills include 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), and the Safe Prescription Drug Disposal and Education Act (H.R. 5925)
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Date of Report: August 9, 2010
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R40548
Price: $29.95

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