Attorney General Shapiro Commends New Law Giving Hospices Ability to Dispose of Prescription Drugs Fueling Opioid Epidemic

AG thanks Senator Baker, County Coroner Kukuchka for Law Permitting Hospice Workers to Dispose of Unused Rx After Patients Pass Away

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — July 27, 2018
CONTACT: Joe Grace: 717-574-9095, jgrace@attorneygeneral.gov

TUNKHANNOCK — Attorney General Josh Shapiro today traveled to Northeast Pennsylvania to join a Pennsylvania Senator and Wyoming County coroner who worked to pass a new state law allowing hospice and home health workers to safely dispose of medications left behind following the death of hospice patients.

Senator Lisa Baker (R-20) and Wyoming Coroner Tom Kukuchka were instrumental in the approval of Act 69 – another key step in helping law enforcement stem the flood of prescription drugs fueling the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania. The senator and coroner stood with Attorney General Shapiro this morning at the Wyoming Emergency Management Agency in Tunkhannock.

“This new law relieves grieving families of the burden of disposing of unused prescription drugs, and will help keep these drugs from falling into the wrong hands,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “80 percent of persons addicted to heroin started by abusing prescription drugs, and over 70 percent of people who misuse prescription drugs get them from friends, relatives or a medicine cabinet. This law is a step in the right direction and we’re grateful to Senator Baker, Coroner Kukuchka and others for their work on it.”

Attorney General Shapiro and Senator Baker were joined at the news conference by State Rep. Karen Boback, (R-117th), Wyoming County District Attorney Jeff Mitchell and other Wyoming County officials.

Prior to Act 69, which was sponsored by Senator Baker, it was illegal for homecare or hospice workers to dispose of leftover prescriptions; it was against the law for anyone – even healthcare workers – to possess a prescription in someone else’s name. In Pennsylvania, an estimated 66,000 people receive hospice care each year. With this change in the law, hospice workers can now safely dispose of unused prescription drugs after patients pass away.  

Attorney General Shapiro thanked the General Assembly and Governor Tom Wolf for passing and signing the bill into law. The bill was supported by the Pennsylvania Homecare Association, Bayada Home Health Care, and the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association.

“The situation we have addressed is just one avenue by which drugs could end up in the wrong hands, because a process had been created that lacked sense and safeguards,” said Sen. Lisa Baker. “But it is one piece of perhaps dozens needed. There is no single large step to solve this crisis. We have to do many things to change laws, regulations, practices, treatments and attitudes. This is not a grand announcement about having turned the corner. Rather, it is to let people know that we are working, we are consulting, we are cooperating, and we are approving measures that we hope will add up to effective antidotes.”

During a roundtable on the epidemic last fall in Sen. Baker’s district, Attorney General Shapiro discussed this legislation, still pending at that time. Attendees at that forum agreed this reform would help keep prescription drugs out of the hands of those who may abuse them, and allow hospice and home health workers to safely dispose of the drugs.

“Overdose fatalities are at record highs,” said Wyoming County Coroner Kukuchka. “One of the ways we can help counteract this epidemic is to prevent properly prescribed drugs from falling into the wrong hands. This law helps accomplish that.”

Last year the Office of Attorney General provided 60,000 drug deactivation pouches to 97 homecare and hospice organizations in 17 counties to pass on to families of clients, to reduce the flow of prescription drugs fueling the epidemic. On average, 15 Pennsylvanians die every day of an overdose.

Attorney General Shapiro believes using treatment as a weapon to fight opioid addiction is vital as well. Partnering with local law enforcement in Somerset County, the Attorney General in May announced a new initiative to connect persons suffering from addiction with treatment – without the threat of arrest. In Somerset, anyone seeking treatment can go to their local police station, where officers will connect them with a local treatment partner. The Attorney General’s program will expand to other counties in the coming months.

Attorney General Shapiro has made combating the epidemic his number one priority. The office destroyed more than 43 tons of drugs in 2017, a 65 percent increase over 2016. As of June 25 this year, the Attorney General’s office has destroyed over 26 tons of drugs. Through a partnership with Pocono Raceway, Office of Attorney General agents collected and destroyed about 60 pounds of opioids in one June weekend.

“We are using every tool at our disposal to get these drugs off the streets,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Thanks to Senator Baker, county coroners, Governor Wolf and the legislature, we now have another tool to help us do that. Act 69 is an important step forward as we continue to fight this epidemic on every front.”