What Do Pharmacies Do with Unused Pain Medication That’s Returned?

Many people may not realize that pharmacies cannot accept returns on any prescription medications once they are dispensed. It’s against the law for safety reasons. Pharmacies can only accept returns if there is a proven mistake on their part. Again by law, they must correct the mistake and provide the patient with the correct medication as written by their doctor. However, these kind of returned medications are never used. They are destroyed according to the laws in that state. If it’s a pain medication and a controlled substance, rules for destroying the medication are strict and must follow federal guidelines. What do pharmacies do with unused pain medication that’s returned? They destroy it.

The Drug Diversion Unit

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s Drug Diversion Unit watches such transactions closely. It would be easy for a dishonest pharmacist to claim that a certain number of highly regulated opioid pain pills fell down the drain, were broken when the bottle was opened or were stepped on. The Drug Diversion Unit has protocols for these circumstances. Certain forms must be signed under penalty of perjury and submitted to the DEA, which reserves the right to verify all information. If the pills were broken or crushed on accident, they can demand to see the remnants of them. The profession of pharmacy has a high rate of drug-abusing members. These people may steal drugs from their workplace. If they’re a pharmacist-owner, they may steal from their own stock. Some of them may get controlled substance pain pills by shorting prescriptions by just a few. After all, a bottle of 100 pills will visually look the same as one containing only 95 pills. The pharmacist pockets the five pilfered pills for personal use.

It’s All Accounted For

It’s the only way, because controlled substances are strictly accounted for. All pharmacies do internal audits, and the DEA can send agents around to do a forensic audit at any time. There are DEA agents who do nothing but pharmacy inspections. They are always looking for signs of diversion. Every single pill, every drop of liquid, every gram of powder, every vial of injectable medication is accounted for down to the exact amount. The pharmacy is required to use special procedures to order controlled substances, especially those in Schedule II. This is the highest class of controlled drugs still approved for legal medical use. Some of its members include:

  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Codeine in pure form
  • Morphine
  • Hydromorphone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Fentanyl
  • Meperidine
  • Methadone

Drugs in Schedule I have no accepted medical use in the United States, although they may be legal in other countries. Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, peyote and cannabis. Surprised about cannabis? Yes, even though many states have legalized it for medical and even recreational use, cannabis remains illegal on the federal level. That will soon change, because Congress voted just this month to decriminalize cannabis. This will remove it from Schedule I where it was placed in 1970 and has remained ever since.

CBD, cannabidiol, is legal on the federal level as long as it’s derived from hemp plants and not marijuana plants.

Drug Take-Back Days

Many pharmacies do sponsor prescription drug collection events. These are mostly old, expired or unneeded prescription drugs that people have around the house. Flushing them down the toilet pollutes the water supply and is discouraged for most drugs except for fentanyl. The suggested disposal method is to mix the pills with old coffee grounds or used kitty litter, place the whole nasty mess in a bag, tie it up, and place it in the trash receptacle. However, this won’t stop someone from retrieving the pills and ingesting them if they really want to. So pharmacies collect them and send them out for safe destruction, often by incineration.

Communities may also sponsor these Drug Take-Back events. They’re usually advertised well in advance. You just take your old prescription drugs to a certain location at a certain time and turn them in. However, it’s common for these events to have a policy of not accepting any controlled substances. If you have controlled substance pain medication or other controlled medication, such as diet pills, sleeping pills or tranquilizers, ask a local pharmacy what to do. If they don’t have a take-back program, they should know who does.

Help is Available

This article has been an informational public service piece to help everyone understand how to safely dispose of old prescription medications. However, some people need more than that. If you’re worried about drug abuse for yourself or a loved one, we can help. Call us at 833-762-3739 anytime. A trained counselor will help you get the help you’re seeking. Let us help you.