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Pharmacy Returns Services & Resources Q&A | Christine Lee-Wilson, PharmD, Owner, Professional Pharmacy

Q. Can you give us a little background on why reverse distribution or drug returns are important for pharmacies?

The main objective of a reverse distribution or drug returns program is to minimize the risk of expired medications being dispensed and getting into the hands of patients accidentally. So above anything else, it’s a public health and patient safety issue. That’s what the regulations are about — and as a pharmacy owner, I want to know we are in compliance at all times. That means my shelves are always clean, and everything is in order no matter when the State Board of Pharmacy visits. There’s also a financial benefit. Pharmacies can earn rebates for drug returns that are processed correctly and within a specific time frame.

Q. Why did you decide to outsource your drug returns program?

For Professional Pharmacy, it comes down to resources and expertise. If we were to process our own returns, that would mean taking technicians away from what they do best. It’s difficult enough to find strong technicians today — they are the pharmacy’s most valuable resource. The last thing I want to do is have them spending hours on tasks that aren’t central to day-to-day patient care.

Drug returns also have to be processed in a specific way to be compliant, which is not something I’m thoroughly trained to do. Having an expert third-party partner manage the process gives me one less thing to worry about. It’s what they do every day, so I can be confident the process will be handled in both the most efficient and environmentally friendly manner.

More than anything, working with a partner means the job will get done. As I said, we’re all busy — and processing returns just isn’t a priority. I can see how it would be easy to say, “I’ll do it tomorrow” or “I’ll do it next week” — and then you run the risk of not processing returns in the appropriate time frame to get the full financial benefit. For me, having a reverse distributor cycle just makes sense. 

Q. What was most important to you when you began looking for a drug returns outsourcing partner?

Finding a partner was easier for me because I had worked with the company I chose in my previous position. Still, I spoke with several other pharmacies using their services, and no one ever had a problem. So it was a trust factor as much as anything. I wanted someone who was accessible, local, and could deliver an end-to-end turnkey solution. We’ve worked with our partner for six years, and everything has been seamless.

Q. Can you walk me through your partner’s process of returning expired pharmaceuticals?

My representative comes in every six months and scans the prescription shelves, pulling any outdated medications we haven’t already removed and stored for them to process. They work with both controlled and non-controlled substances. Controlled substances are broken down, and then everything is separated so they can be packaged properly for return to the respective manufacturers. My representative prepares all the documentation and arranges for pick up, typically the next day. When the courier arrives — everything is ready for them, and I have copies of each form to keep on file. They also take care of compounded expires for me, which is not always easy to find. At the end of it all, we get one check from them that lists credits from each manufacturer they’ve worked with as well as some smaller rebates directly from other manufacturers.

Q. Have you found any other benefits from working with a returns company that you didn’t consider when you began?

In some ways, I see them as a double-check for us. Since they only come in every six months — we pull expired medication from the shelves between visits. The fact that they come in and scan the shelves again gives me added peace of mind. In that process, they are able to give me a complete inventory of what’s being returned along with a credit estimate. With this information, I can see what drugs are expiring and in what quantities on an ongoing basis. This historical data helps me make better-informed business decisions about purchasing inventory.

They also provide a tremendous amount of guidance. For instance, they keep me up-to-date on regulations. In 2019, for example, the DEA changed Order Form for Schedule I and II Controlled Substances (DEA Form 222) — implementing a new single sheet format instead of the old triplicate forms. The next time my representative came in, they had the new forms and walked me through what I needed to do differently, what I needed to keep on file, and even where I should be keeping the forms.  I didn’t have to worry about researching the change; they did it all for me.



Christine Lee-Wilson, PharmD, Owner, Professional Pharmacy

Christine Lee-Wilson, PharmD, is the owner-pharmacist of Professional Pharmacy, an independent pharmacy in the Baltimore suburb of Rosedale, MD. In addition to providing traditional retail pharmacy services, Professional Pharmacy also offers long-term care services for assisted living facilities, group homes, day programs, and more.

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Returns, Reverse Distribution