Hospice workers will be allowed to destroy patients’ unneeded opioids, reducing the risk that families misuse them, according to one little-noticed provision in the bipartisan opioids bill headed to President Donald Trump’s desk for his likely signature.
The bill would empower hospice staff to destroy opioid medications that are expired, no longer needed by the patient because of a change in treatment, or left over after the patient dies.
A spokesperson for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, one of the Democrats who pushed for this provision to be included in the overall opioid package that the Senate passed Wednesday, said the idea was sparked by Kaiser Health News’ reporting.
Last August, a KHN investigation found that as more people die at home on hospice, some of the addictive drugs they are prescribed are being stolen by neighbors, relatives, and paid caregivers—contributing to an opioid epidemic that kills an average of 115 people a day in the United States.
The article quoted a Washington State woman named Sarah B., who stole hundreds of pills—Norco(hydrocodone), oxycodone, and morphine—that were left on her father’s bedside table after he died at home on hospice care. The hospice staff never talked about addiction or how to safely dispose of drugs after a person dies, she told KHN. Hospices have largely been exempt from crackdowns in many states on opioid prescriptions because people may need high doses of opioids as they approach death.