On Wednesday, October 24, 2018, President Trump signed the bipartisan bill, SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, to address the opioid epidemic. The opioids bill will increase access to addiction treatment and other interventions.

One part of the opioids bill allows hospice workers to destroy patients’ unneeded, expired, or leftover medications. With more than 72,000 deaths from overdose in 2017, the goal of this provision is to reduce the risk that families will misuse the medications. Currently, by law, hospices cannot directly destroy patients’ unneeded opioids. Instead, they usually direct families to mix medicines with kitty litter or coffee grounds before throwing them in the trash, or flush them down the toilet.

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), “Granting appropriate hospice professionals the legal authority to dispose of unused medication after a hospice patient’s death would not only alleviate grieving families of this responsibility but also help prevent potential diversion or illicit use of these drugs.”

The opioids bill also requires hospices to document policies on the disposal of opioids. They must also discuss the disposal policies with families. Additionally, it calls for the Government Accountability Office to study hospice’s disposal of controlled substances in patient homes.

One thing the opioids bill doesn’t address is what happens if a family refuses to give up the drugs. By federal law, medications are considered property of the patient or whoever inherits that person’s property after they die. NHPCO states that hospice workers wouldn’t need formal written consent from families to destroy the medications. However, if a family member objects, the worker would have to leave the drugs alone.

The HEALTHCAREfirst Difference

firstHOSPICE includes robust Medication Administration Record Medication Administration Record (MAR) that efficiently facilitates the clinical practice of the “5 Rights of Medication Administration” to ensure patient safety and clinician confidence with medication administration.

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