The Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) new regulations, aimed to cut down on prescription drug abuse, will soon allow patients to return unused pharmaceuticals to authorized locations. The new rules go into effect October 9, 2014.

Amplifying the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010, the DEA regulations will allow authorized manufacturers, distributors, reverse distributors, narcotic treatment programs, hospitals, clinics, and retail pharmacies to collect unused medication from patients. The new regulations also permit long-term care facilities to maintain on-site collection receptacles for residents’ medicine.

To coincide with the release of the DEA’s new rules, the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy has adopted additional regulations (effective October 24, 2014) and issued detailed guidance for complying with both state and federal laws regarding the collection of pharmaceutical drugs.

These regulations were enacted in response to the prescription drug abuse epidemic. According to the DEA, the number of Americans who currently abuse prescription drugs is more than double the combined number of users of heroin, cocaine, and other street drugs.

Before these rules were enacted, federal law prohibited doctors and pharmacies from accepting unused prescription medication, so patients would throw the medication away, flush it down the toilet, or simply leave it in the medicine cabinet. This made it easy for prescription drug abusers to access drugs.

The newly enacted regulations greatly expand the options for safe, effective, and environmentally friendly drug disposal. For instance, long-term care facilities (i.e. nursing homes) often face the issue of disposing of medication left behind by former residents. Now, such facilities can partner with a hospital or pharmacy and maintain a disposal receptacle on-site at the facility.

The rules specify in detail precisely who can collect unused pharmaceuticals and by what methods. These methods include “mail-back” programs, “take-back” events, and permanent disposal receptacles. With the increase in proper disposal options, access to prescription drugs should decline steeply.

The DEA anticipates the new disposal options will benefit the community by decreasing the supply of controlled substances available for misuse, abuse, diversion, and accidental ingestion. Additionally, despite a minimal added cost, providers who elect to establish an unused drug collection program will benefit by increased consumer contact and goodwill.