Monday, September 12, 2016

Prescription drugs - questions for my readers

I'm discussing the plot of a novel-in-progress with another writer.  As part of her research, she asked me whether there were any legal restrictions on whether one can keep expired prescription drugs.  Such restrictions might include how much of any given drug (or type of drug) one could keep;  how long one could keep it;  etc.  (We know it's illegal to provide another person with a scheduled narcotic prescribed for oneself, of course.)

I don't know the answer to that question, and Internet searches have yielded little fruit.  I don't know if it's covered nationwide under federal law, or whether it's a matter of state or local laws that vary between jurisdictions.  I also don't know whether it's different in countries outside the USA.  Therefore, I thought I'd throw the problem to my readers.  If you can answer any of these questions in terms of your own location or country, and particularly if you can provide links to relevant laws, codes and regulations, please do so in Comments.

  1. Is it illegal to store any given prescription narcotic, or class/type of prescription narcotics, if one doesn't use all of a prescription?
  2. Is it illegal to accumulate more than a certain quantity of a prescription narcotic or type of prescription narcotics (e.g. painkillers)?
  3. Is it illegal to keep such narcotics for longer than a certain period (e.g. past the expiry date printed on the label)?  (I know that at least some narcotics are perfectly usable past that date - the US military's Shelf Life Extension Program has confirmed that - but I'm not sure whether there are legal restrictions.)

Thanks in advance!



sdharms said...

no, no and no.

JK Brown said...

I don't have any recent information, but I did discover in Maryland about 15 years ago, that they won't fill an eyeglass prescription that is more than a year old. No word on whether it is a crime to continue using old prescription eyeglasses.

I expect you'll find the rules by state, except for a few imposed by the DEA for controlled substances.

JK Brown said...

I did a quick look around and found this DEA site on Diversion that has fact sheets on disposal with links to the FDA and EPA. No mention of retention in any matter. I would suspect they would mention it if it was illegal

SiGraybeard said...

Not really related to answering the question, but doesn't the question itself say a lot? Think about what's implied by asking if one can keep a drug in their medicine cabinet that might be past its expiration date. How would anyone know unless they had 100% surveillance of 100% of the country?

It shows that the attitude in the country has changed from "everything is legal unless specifically outlawed" to "everything is illegal unless specifically permitted". The first viewpoint, certainly the case when I was growing up, represents a much freer country; the second represents a tyranny.

The Raving Prophet said...

I'd expect most of that would rely heavily on the laws of the specific state. But I've never heard of any of the three being an issue as long as there was a valid prescription for the quantity and type of drug in question at the time it was dispensed... and I'm married to a pharmacist. If there is a valid script (or was one when it was dispensed) then there's no issue.

The problem usually isn't the stockpiling of controlled substances... the users usually have the opposite issue (running out).

Gregg said...

There are no laws against keeping meds past their expiration date.
As far as stockpiling, if the authorities catch you with an excessive amount of a controlled substance they are likely to charge you with intent to distribute. However, there are no laws against stockpiling expired meds.

Yes it is sad that we have been turned into Europe in many ways.

BTW, yes I have worked in the pharmaceutical industry and I have even dealt specifically with expired meds and proper disposal of same.
Please note that when pharmacies return expired meds to the manufacturers many of them are repackaged and shipped to third world nations.

Chris Mallory said...

In most US states it is illegal to store prescriptions in a container other than one properly marked as a prescription bottle. Put a couple pain killers in a sandwich bag to take after a long drive and you are technically breaking the law.

If you refill a prescription before you finish the old bottle and you put the left overs of a previous filling into the new bottle, they can, if they want to be thugs, arrest you for that. Especially if you didn't save the old bottle.

kamas716 said...

I've never heard of a law (state, local or federal) that bars someone from holding onto old prescriptions as long as they were prescribed to you and still kept in the original bottle.

As long as you have a legal Rx, you can store as many of the drugs as prescribed, provided you didn't obtain the prescription under false pretenses.

Brigid said...

The CDC maintains such laws but be advised, there may be others particular to a individual state. CDC Links are here.

Anonymous said...

1.) No
2.) No
3.) No

--an MD since 1979

Dwan Seicheine said...

Ask Docrin in baen's bar. In the Kratskeller.


Suz said...

No, no, and no. Have been a nurse in both NY and MI. Just keep in the original bottle, & do NOT transport in baggies as stated above.
I would not keep liquid meds around for extended time frames, liquid amoxicillin comes to mind, as it does degrade. And other liquids do separate out. As a home care nurse, I have helped folks clean out stashes of VERY old meds. Think decades.

And agree with SiGraybeard re having to prove the change in viewpoint changes in past few years.


Post Alley Crackpot said...

"Excuse me sir, do you have a prescription for that kilo bale of cocaine?"

I think creating some sort of plot or narrative tension from this kind of technicality only really works well when it's for comedic effect, simply because there's every right to suspect that some aspect of the technicality is bogus.

One notable example: every American attorney I know has more or less said that John Grisham's technicality plot angle explored by Tom Cruise's Mitch McDeere character would probably get him ejected by any state bar association.

Even the bad guys in "The Firm" seemed to be thinking, "What is this, are you crazy? Why are you busting our balls with MAIL FRAUD?"

So yes, go ahead and get one of your characters arrested for possession of his or her own prescription, but only if you intend for your work to be a dark comedy.

JohninMd.(HELP?!??) said...

I beg to differ, Chris. Have you seen the compartmented boxes designed for patients to setup their daily dosages, usually on a weekly basis? If what you pose was the case, mere sale of those boxes would be illegal on its face. No, as long as you were prescribed the stuff and acquired it legally, it's not a thing. Even if the original bottle is gone, your pharmacy will have the records. Peter, have you ever had a Rx cop demand to see the contents of your medicine chest? Yeah, me neither.... The problem, as said above, may be getting it DISPENSED, usually an insurance beef, not having it after legal aquisition!

Anonymous said...

Over here in an European country, it seems that things may actually be simpler than what you have... at least for private use.

1) from what I can tell, you're allowed to provide another person with any medications they have a valid prescription for and you happen to possess legally, as long as you're not asking anything in return.

2) Amounts aren't illegal, intent to distribute for gain is the big thing here. (Veterinary package sizes can get fairly big anyway...)

3) From what I can tell, keeping for your own use past nominal expiration date is allowed but of course recommended against.

Heh, we can get issued opiates in ziplock baggies officially, last time I checked. Not sure if anyone else does that any more but at least the military medical folks did fairly recently.

Now, things are rather more complicated if you're doing it for business, and the medical business permits can be a hassle sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Somewhat off topic, but germane nonetheless: HANG ON TO YOUR "EXPIRED" PRESCRIPTIONS. You may need them at some point, especially should "things go sideways" and obtaining replacements becomes dodgy. If you're accumulating and storing food, water and ammo for "unexpected events" don't forget your meds.

Suz (above) points out that liquids definitely have a maximum storage life, but dry prescrtiptions (pills, capsules) can be preserved almost indefinitely in a freezer. Leave them in the original bottle, put the bottle(s)in a ziplock freezer bag and store them in the freezer. If you have a vacuum sealing method, such as a FoodSaver, that's even better (I use one and two quart mason jars to vacuum pack just about everything, and they stack nicely in a chest freezer; FYI, DO NOT freeze anything containing liquid in a mason jar (meats, etc.) because when the contained water expands as it freezes it will break the jar). Liquids should not be frozen, but read the pharmaceutical manufacturer's info sheet that comes with them (or ask your pharmacist, specifically the licensed pharmacist and not one of the cashier/clerks/techs working in the pharmacy) for the specific details on storage requirements.

If you are prescription-dependent (BP meds, diuretics, glaucoma eye drops, etc.) it's to your benefit to accumulate as much reserve as possible, and in a form that lends itself to extended storage by freezing; the life of eye drops can be prolonged by refrigeration, for example, and some formulations that are routinely dispensed in liquid form may be available in dry (pill) form.

Minecraft Chuck said...

Don't put your meds in a freezer. Some compounds don't survive being frozen. Some do, of course, but if you don't know ahead of time for sure and certain, don't try it.

No, it's not illegal to keep your own expired prescription meds, as long as you keep the prescription, too. Easiest way is to keep the pills in the bottle.

Jeff, M.D. said...

Keeping old prescriptions is not illegal.
I would keep them in a dry location, out of direct sunlight. Certainly not in a bathroom.

Jeff B said...

No to all three questions.

Chris Mallory said...

JohninMD, depending on the state law, those little compartment boxes ARE illegal if they are used for controlled substances, unless they are filled, sorted, and handed to you by the pharmacy.

Here is the Kentucky law on the matter:
"218A.210 Controlled substances may be possessed only in original container --
(1) A person to whom or for whose use any controlled substance has been prescribed,
sold, or dispensed, by a practitioner or other person authorized under this chapter,
may lawfully possess it only in the container in which it was delivered to him by the
person selling or dispensing the same"
(2) Violation of subsection (1) of this section is a Class B misdemeanor for the first
offense and a Class A misdemeanor for subsequent offenses.

Look up your state law, it might be different.

Chris Mallory said...

Something I just remembered about the accumulation of narcotics and painkillers, look up the case of Richard Paey. He was sentenced to 25 years in Florida, later pardoned, after the cops said he was dealing simply because of the number of pain pills he was prescribed.

Bibliotheca Servare said...

Exactly. Although, I was born in the early nineties so the latter (forbidden unless explicitly permitted) is all I've ever known. Doesn't make me hate it any less, though.

Quentin said...

No, not illegal in the UK.