Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

Is It Illegal to Return Prescription Drugs?

When a pharmacist prepares a prescription, it is intended for a particular person to treat a specific issue and can't just be given to anyone. This begs the question then, can you return a prescription medication?

The answer is simple on the one hand: yes, if the pharmacy policy allows it. In fact, however, the notion of pharmaceutical returns and reuse is complex and dictated by state and federal regulations. Let's consider what is at stake.

Drug Returns and Reuse

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) in 2009 issued a position paper on the return and reuse of prescription drugs in the community pharmacy setting. The NABP noted that drug return and reuse is widely accepted in the industrial pharmaceutical setting, and the paper outlines the strict protocol drug providers must follow when returning goods to manufacturers.

But those are dealers in bulk and the NABP acknowledged that there are different issues raised by the return of drugs on the street or community level. Their paper points out that states are increasingly recognizing the need for and value of charitable prescription return and reuse programs, and there are places, like Ohio, Iowa, and North Dakota that have drug donation programs. These programs require strict protocols to ensure safety, purity, and continued viability of the returned and redistributed drugs.

Strict Protocols Required

Although the rules for return and reuse of drugs are many and strict for pharmacists, returning a prescription should not be too complicated for a consumer. Online drug purchases may be governed by a different policy, however, than brick and mortar store returns. For example, the national pharmacy chain CVS states that it cannot accept returned prescription drugs purchased online but appears to have no restriction on in-store prescription purchase returns.

If you're a pharmacist, the real issue is not accepting the returned prescription. Complications present when it comes to redistributing the drug, whether for sale or for charity, and doing so is not universally legal. It's difficult to guarantee the integrity of a drug after it has left the pharmacist's hands. As such, some pharmacies have a blanket no-return policy on prescriptions to avoid dealing with these complications.

For the consumer, it's simple. You only need to know whether a particular store's policy allows a return, leaving the thicket of intersecting laws and regulations to the pharmacists and the NABP.

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