Care Dimensions: Safely Removing Unused Opioids from Hospice Patients’ Homes

Voices of Care

Safely Removing Unused Opioids from Hospice Patients’ Homes

Posted on October 21, 2020 by Alifia Waliji-Banglawala, Pharm.D.

Care Dimensions Director of Pharmacy Services Alifia Waliji-Banglawala demonstrates safe disposal of unused opioids using a medication disposal bag.

Opioids provide important relief from pain and symptoms for people with serious illness and are paramount to quality care in home hospice.

Unused opioids in the home can lead to diversion and misuse, which contribute to a public health crisis that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and has not ended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing the opioid epidemic

To help combat the opioid epidemic, Congress last year passed a law that allows hospice providers like Care Dimensions to legally dispose of unused medications at the home/site of care. The law – named the SUPPORT Act – dictates that the drugs must be destroyed before they can be removed from the site.

Since Care Dimensions established a pilot program to teach caregivers about safe destruction of home hospice medication in September 2018, we have safely disposed of more than 156 pounds of opioids from our communities.

When the SUPPORT Act passed in 2018, Care Dimensions applied for and later received a $71,385 grant from AmerisourceBergen to expand the pilot work to our entire service area and develop best practices for providing support and education about opioid disposal in the home to our clinical team members and family caregivers. The grant also will help us share safe opioid disposal techniques with hospice organizations throughout the state via a partnership with the Hospice and Palliative Care Federation of Massachusetts.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic put our plans on hold in the spring of this year. After adjusting to a new work routine, Care Dimensions health educators developed an online learning component for our clinical teams, who were introduced to the course in early September. A few weeks later, we began including medication disposal bags with our home hospice teams’ personal protective equipment.

Working with family caregivers

Caring for a loved one while facing the death of that person is a highly emotional and stressful situation. Caregivers often form deep and trusted bonds with the hospice care team and rely on them for caregiving guidance. By adding safe opioid disposal practices to our caregiver skills training, Care Dimensions is enhancing its already robust and compassionate caregiver support program. We aim to offer the safe opioid disposal training to 100% of family primary caregivers in our service area.

Care Dimensions is working hard to balance effective symptom management for our patients with the need to ensure that opioids stay out of the wrong hands. You can do your part by safely disposing of unused prescription medications during National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, October 24, 2020.


About the author
Alifia Waliji-Banglawala, Pharm.D., is Director of Pharmacy Services for Care Dimensions.

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Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in more than 95 communities in Eastern Massachusetts.