March 17, 2016

Senate Committee Approves Bipartisan Amendment based on the Bipartisan, Bicameral Reducing Unused Medication Act to Allow Partial Filling of Opioid Prescriptions

More than 70 percent of adults who misuse prescription opioids get them from friends or relatives

Washington, DC - The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Wednesday approved an amendment based on the bipartisan, bicameral Reducing Unused Medication Act that would allow prescriptions for opioid medications to be partially filled by pharmacists at the request of patients or doctors, reducing the number of unused painkillers. More than 70 percent of adults who misuse prescription opioids get them from friends or relatives, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The amendment passed by the HELP Committee was introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and cosponsored by HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). Senators Warren and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), along with Representatives Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) previously introduced the Reducing Unused Medication Act to allow the partial filling of prescriptions.

"Not everyone uses all of the painkillers that their doctors give them, and we know that many of those unused pills end up in the wrong hands. We can cut back opioid abuse on the front end by reducing the number of pills in circulation," Senator Warren said. "This legislation let patients and doctors request partial fill of prescriptions if it's right for them, and will gets the federal government out of the way so that states like Massachusetts can implement partial fill policies."

"This new law would help combat prescription drug abuse and overdose by expressly permitting pharmacists to only fill part of so-called 'schedule II' drugs like prescription opioids. I thank Senator Warren for her leadership on this amendment to bring much need clarity to states and local communities working hard to fight this growing epidemic," Chairman Alexander said.

"Taking opioids for pain relief is a major health decision, and pharmacists should have the flexibility to fill part of a prescription if requested by the patient," Senator Bennet said. "Our bill clarifies the law so patients only take home the portion of the prescription they want and in turn helps reduce the number of unused opioid pills that have contributed to the country's opioid addiction epidemic."

"Far too often prescription drug abuse is starting at home. Allowing health care professionals to partially fill prescriptions for opioids will help reduce the number of unnecessary pills and prevent drugs from being abused. This bipartisan legislation is an important component in our broader effort to combat the growing drug crisis in America, and I look forward to it reaching the Senate floor for a full vote," said Senator Capito.

"Millions of half-filled bottles of unused prescription drugs line our families' medicine cabinets, and too often, that is where opioid addiction begins. The Reducing Unused Medications Act of 2016 empowers patients to manage their prescriptions responsibly and reduces the number of unused and unwanted painkillers that are fueling our nation's opioid epidemic. Democrats and Republicans should come together to pass this bill and save lives," Congresswoman Clark said. 

"The diversion of prescription drugs is a major contributor to the opiates epidemic in my state and around the country," Congressman Stivers said. "I am proud to cosponsor this bipartisan legislation to allow for partial fill of prescription drugs. It will help prevent drug abuse and save more lives."

Reducing the amount of unused prescription painkillers is a critical part of addressing the ongoing opioid abuse epidemic. Current Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulations permit drugs in schedules III, IV, and V to be partially filled, but the regulations are narrower and less clear for schedule II drugs, including prescription opioids.  The Reducing Unused Medications Act and the amendment adopted by the committee resolve any ambiguity and clear the way for states considering partial fill policies to act.

A fact sheet about the amendment is available here, and the full text of the amendment is available here. The full text of the previously-introduced Reducing Unused Medications Act is available here.