Hospices are having trouble disposing of opioids and other drugs after their patients die, according to a Tuesday report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
"When hospice patients die at home, they often leave behind unused controlled substances, which can be diverted and misused by anyone with access to them," GAO said.
Congress allowed hospice employees to get rid of their patients' unused drugs by collecting and destroying them in their patients' homes when it passed the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act, or SUPPORT Act, in 2018. Some states had similar laws before 2018.
But states might prevent hospices from discarding unused drugs until they enact their own laws, even though Congress allowed it and federal law usually takes precedent over state law.
In one state, a hospice official "said that it continued the practice of leaving the controlled substances in the home and educating family members about how to dispose of the drugs themselves," GAO said.
Best practices for scrapping unused drugs include keeping track of prescription drug quantities, using lockboxes to guard against to reduce access to medicines and having a witness for drug disposal.
But hospices reported to GAO that they often have trouble securing witnesses and paying for disposal in addition to conflicting state and federal laws that could put hospices and their employees in a bind.