April 13, 2018

Warren, Rubio, Colleagues Unveil Bipartisan Bill to Allow for Safe Disposal of Unused Opioids by Home Hospice Providers

Legislation Aims to Reduce Diversion and Misuse of Prescription Medications

Bill Text | One-Pager

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) yesterday introduced the bipartisan Hospice Safe Drug Disposal Act to authorize home hospice providers to safely dispose of unused prescriptions of controlled substances.  The legislation builds upon a provision included in a bipartisan bill to address the opioid crisis, which was released by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee last week.

Because opioid medications are often used to manage pain for hospice patients, unused opioid medications are frequently left behind when a patient passes away under the care of a hospice program. But in most states, hospice employees cannot assist in the disposal of controlled substances, including opioid medications. As a result, these powerful medications are left in the hands of grieving family members or in medicine cabinets. Reports have highlighted several examples of diversion and misuse of opioid medications following hospice care.

"Families dealing with the loss of a loved one shouldn't also have to worry about leftover meds," Senator Warren said. "This common-sense bill would help reduce the number of opioids in circulation by allowing hospice employees to step in and help families safely dispose of these medications. I am grateful to my colleagues - Democrats and Republicans-for joining me in this effort."

"Illegal diversion of prescribed medication has become a significant issue in the opioid epidemic," said Senator Rubio. "This bill would give hospice providers the ability to safely dispose of a patient's unused prescriptions after they pass away, preventing the drugs from ending up in the wrong hands and relieving some of the burden on families from having to worry about what to do with their loved ones' leftover medication."

Unused prescription medications in a home pose a real risk. Many people who misuse prescription opioids take pills that were originally legally prescribed to someone.  According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over 70 percent of people who misuse prescription painkillers got them from a friend, relative, or doctor.

The bipartisan Hospice Safe Drug Disposal Act would authorize certain home hospice providers to dispose of controlled substances on behalf of ultimate users.  The bill includes several safeguards to prevent against diversion of drugs by hospice employees, including by requiring hospice programs to document disposal of controlled substances. It also requires the DEA to issue guidance to assist hospice programs in complying with federal rules around safe disposal.   Finally, the bill asks the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study examining the challenges faced by hospice programs in the management and disposal of controlled substances.

Senator Warren has been leading efforts in Congress to reduce the number of unused prescription opioid medications in circulation, including working to allow hospice programs to safely dispose of these medications.