3 Steps to Managing the Sample Closet at Your Medical Practice

small pharmaceutical samples

1 in 7 Drug Packages in Physicians’ Pharmaceutical Closets is Expired

It’s true. According to a recent study one out of every seven drug samples in sample closets is expired. You know that closet full of samples at your medical practice? When was the last time it was cleaned out and updated? Plus, what do you do with the unwanted medication…should you just toss it in the trash? Flush it down a drain? Here is what you should do boiled down into 3 simple steps.

Step 1: Set Aside Time to Take Control

It happens to the best of us. Things get busy and the sample closet gets neglected. Before you know it pill bottles lie strewn about the shelves, samples haphazardly stacked, most of them way past their expiration date.

Many physicians get great use out of the samples in their drug sample closet. It’s not just about putting samples into the closet until they expire and then having to dispose of them. However, giving expired medication to patients is definitely a liability to be concerned about.

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The first thing you need to do is set aside a designated time (give yourself a couple of hours) to clean out all those currently expired meds. While it may seem like a waste to throw away unused medicine, dispensing expired medication is not worth the risks associated. Here are some tips to get started:

  • Start by setting up an organization/classification system
  • Group samples in a way that makes sense for you
  • Separate drugs with similar names so they are not confused
  • Keep drug samples secure and protected (use a locking cabinet or add a small lock)
  • Designate an “overflow” area for extra samples (keep this secured as well)
  • If a drug comes in multiple sizes designate separate bins for each size

Step 2: Put Someone in Charge

In many cases, there is no one designated to manage the sample closet. In some practices, the drug reps are managing the samples. If this is the case, were someone to take samples without permission, no one would even notice.

To avoid drug reps rearranging your sample closet or potentially removing competitors’ samples, limit the number of drug reps you allow in the office per day. Make sure someone can be available when a drug rep arrives to give them access to the sample closet and secure it again when they leave. The person in charge of the sample closet should:

  • Track distribution – should there be a recall you need to be able to contact patients
  • Keep supplies nearby – a notepad and pen come in handy for writing down oral instructions, small bags are also helpful for carrying multiple samples to patients
  • Make disposing of expired meds an ongoing task – always check the expiration date on products before giving to patients

Step 3: Have a Disposal Procedure in Place

In addition to keeping your sample closet well organized and secured, it is important to dispose of unwanted substances properly to avoid accidental water supply contamination or illegal diversion of controlled substances. What does this mean? Unwanted and expired medication can pose a threat to public health and the environment. In fact, since 2003 more drug overdoses each year are a result of prescription medicine abuse than cocaine and heroin combined. “Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

While expired drugs are usually not dangerous to patients, they do lose potency over time. This could lead to patients taking an ineffective amount of medication which may interfere with their care.

Post clear and simple disposal procedures nearby. Pharmaceutical waste must often be segregated prior to disposal since different types of medications require a different disposal process. In addition, FDA does not want to add drug residues into water systems unnecessarily which means it is never okay to flush unwanted medicine down a toilet or drain. The best thing to do is work with a licensed pharmaceutical disposal company that offers a pickup or mailback service that makes it easy for you to properly dispose of unwanted pharmaceutical substances.

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