April 13, 2018

Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduces Bill to Allow Safe Disposal of Unwanted Drugs in Hospice

Washington, D.C. — A bipartisan group of five Senators introduced the Safe Disposal of Unused Medication Act of 2018 to respond to one aspect of the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic that is harming communities and families across the country.  This bipartisan legislation would address the problem of unused prescription drugs when a patient is receiving hospice care at home.  The bill was introduced by U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Under current federal regulations, hospice staff are not allowed to dispose of unused medications, even after the patient has died.  As a result, dangerous medications with a high risk of diversion, theft, and abuse are frequently left in the deceased person’s home.

“I have heard stories about criminals who scan the obituary pages to figure out when the family will be away at a funeral just so they can use that time to break into the family’s home to steal these dangerous drugs,” said Senator Collins.  “The disposal of unused prescription drugs is key to making sure they do not fall into the wrong hands, and this bill would help solve that problem.”

“Ensuring that unused prescription opioids are properly disposed of is critical to saving lives and combating the opioid crisis," Senator Hassan said. “This bipartisan measure seeks to ensure that unused opioids don’t get into the wrong hands by permitting hospice staff or emergency medical services professionals to dispose of controlled substances when a patient dies or when the medication expires. This is a common-sense step we can take to reduce the chances of substance misuse, and I will continue working with Senator Collins and colleagues from both parties to advance this important legislation.”

“The opioid epidemic is a problem that needs a spectrum of solutions—including commonsense measures like this one that will help prevent the illegal use of prescription drugs,” Senator Capito said. “This bipartisan legislation will help keep unused medications from being abused and bring us one step closer to getting at the root of this growing crisis.”

“Fighting this nationwide epidemic is a shared responsibility and so we must do everything we can to improve the safety and quality of pain management services and to ensure that our health providers have the tools they need to deliver safe care. This is a commonsense fix that would allow our hospice workers to safely dispose of these potentially dangerous medications after they are no longer needed,” said Senator Baldwin. “I’m proud to join this bipartisan effort to continue advancing solutions that will help combat opioid abuse and save lives.”

The Safe Disposal of Unused Medication Act would permit hospice staff (physicians and registered nurses) or emergency medical services professionals to dispose of controlled substances when a patient dies or a medication expires and requires:

  • Qualified hospice programs to have a written policy and procedure for drug disposal in place to be distributed to a patient’s family;
  • Hospice employees, defined as doctors or registered nurses, to hold a mandatory conversation with a patient’s family member or representative about drug disposal policies when a controlled substance is first ordered; and
  • All drug disposals to be documented in the clinical record.

The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) sent a letter in support of the Senators’ legislation.  “Your legislation works to address the challenges faced by hospice programs related to disposal of controlled substances and signals a clear understanding of the need for ‘real world’ solutions to enable willing hospice providers to reduce the potential for diversion or misuse of controlled substances in patients’ places of residence,” wrote NAHC President William Dombi.

A one-pager on the bill can be found HERE.

The text of the bill can be found HERE.

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