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New Federal Bill to Allow Partial-Fill of Opioid Rx

April 13, 2016
The bill would allow doctors to write partial prescriptions for opioid medications, stemming the risk of misuse and abuse by limiting access to unused medications.

A new bill (Reducing Unused Medications Act, SIL16061) recently introduced to the Senate and House of Representatives could soon allow pharmacists to partially fill prescriptions for opioids at the request of patients or doctors.

Unused pain prescriptions are often left in plain view of anyone looking for medications.

The legislation is intended to reduce the amount of unused opioids (those left in medicine cabinet or homes once the patient feels better) by enabling pharmacists to fill only part of an opioid prescription. If pain persists, patients can then go back to the pharmacist for the rest of their prescription, provided the prescription hasn’t expired.1

Unused opioid prescriptions have become a major source of prescription opioid circulation and misuse in the general population. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 70% of adults who misuse prescription opioids obtain them from a friend or family member.

According to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who co-authored the legislation, the hope is that the new law will not only reduce the quantity of unused opioid prescriptions but also relieve ambiguity at the federal level, so states can draft their own policies for partial prescriptions of opioids.

"Tackling the opioid abuse epidemic will be tough, but we can take an important step by reducing the number of pills in circulation,” stated Senator Warren in a press release. “This bipartisan bill will empower patients and doctors to work together to determine appropriate pain treatment, while limiting the number of unused pills left in family medicine cabinets.”

Currently, regulations set by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) already permit drugs in schedules III, IV, and V to have prescriptions partially filled out by pharmacists. Opioids are schedule II drugs, however, making the regulations less clear.

Under the new bill, which has been titled the Reducing Unused Medications Act, pharmacists will be able to notify a patient’s physician when a prescription has been partially filled. Partially filled prescriptions will last only up to the date that a normal, full prescription would have run out. 

The new legislation comes with bipartisan support, with Senator Warren joined by coauthors Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Representatives Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Steve Stivers (R-Ohio).

The legislation is just one of many initiatives lawmakers are taking in response to the alarming trends in opioid abuse, overdose, and deaths across the country, including recent prescribing guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that urge doctors to limit opioid prescribing to patients.

Congress Passes Bill S483

The House and Senate have also passed the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016 (S. 483) on April 12, 2016.

National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) released a statement after the bill was passed. “NCPA commends Congress for approving this bipartisan legislation, and we look forward to its expected signature into law by President Obama," noted B. Douglas Hoey, RPh, MBA.

"This legislation advances NCPA’s dual aim of reducing prescription drug abuse while ensuring access for patients with legitimate medical need for prescription painkillers," he said.  NCPA worked constructively with Congress and stakeholders in the development of this legislation and in particular we appreciate the efforts of Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Reps. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).”

“This legislation is consistent with NACDS’ position that the complexity of these issues demands a 100% commitment to patient care and a zero tolerance for abuse,” stated Steven Anderson, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, in a press release.
Last updated on: April 13, 2016

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