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February 08, 2012
Unused drugs a public health problem
MUKILTEO, Washington (STPNS) -- There’s a growing health issue locally that seems to have a fairly painless solution, but Washington state lawmakers can’t seem to figure it out.
Unused medicines (such as those we all have left over in our medicine cabinets) are contributing to drug overdoses, which is now the most common cause of accidental death in Washington, superseding car accidents, with an average of two deaths per day.
A proposed Secure Medicine Return Bill (SB 5234) would provide a permanent disposal program for unused medicines that endanger our communities.
It would require drug producers selling medicines in Washington to provide, finance and promote a safe, convenient program for return and disposal of leftover and expired medicines.
The Take Back Your Meds coalition is comprised of more than 240 local law enforcement agencies, health organizations, drugstores, local governments, environmental groups and community organizations that support a statewide medicine “take back” program financed by pharmaceutical manufacturers, instead of by local governments and tax dollars.
The solution sounds simple. Have disposal points where consumers can drop off old and unused meds, which can then be disposed of properly (through incineration.)
Last year, Snohomish County collected more than 730 pounds of unsafe prescription drugs in one day at the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.
While the one-day event did help remove unwanted medicines that contribute to overdoses, accidental poisonings, and water and soil contamination in our communities, it was only a temporary fix for a long-term problem.
The Secure Medicine Return Bill would make Washington the nation’s first state to offer a statewide drug “take back” program funded by pharmaceutical companies at the cost of only one penny for every $16 in sales.
But the program isn’t seeing much of a response in the state Legislature, because of heavy opposition from PhRMA – the Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing Association – which is opposed to being burdened with the costs associated with such a program.
Some of the justification for opposing the “high cost” of the program is the estimated $.02 cost per prescription. That’s right - 2 cents per prescription.
“I’m disappointed we’ve had to go through so much to get this program started,” Snohomish County Sheriff Lovick said.
And he’s not the only one. Thirty-five of the state’s 39 sheriffs support this bill.
“I’ve been what I call ‘slow-rolled’ by this process,” Lovick said. “Legislators give the impression they will support you, but then do the opposite when it comes time to act.
“This is like making legislation that would stop head-on collision deaths; if the community knew about the opposition, they would be up in arms. People just don’t want to take responsibility.”
“The pharmaceutical manufacturer’s perspective is they are afraid if it happens here (Washington), it will happen elsewhere,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, director of the Snohomish Health District.
“I hope it does. The issue is good stewardship of medicines.
“From a public health perspective, we can’t allow this to slip away.”
But the opposition is there.
“We sent out over 300 letters to pharmaceutical companies asking them to get involved with this process,” Jonelle Fenton-Wallace, environmental health specialist with the Snohomish Health District, said.
“So far, we’ve not had one response from them.”
“We need to shame these people into supporting this,” Lovick said.
“We’re talking two pennies, is that too much for these guys? It’s disgraceful.”
This is the third time this type of bill has been introduced; it’s been defeated each time before now.
“There is just tremendous power opposing this bill,” Fenton-Wallace said.
“But the bill is in the Senate now, if we can just get them to act on it. It lost by one vote last time, so every vote is the most important one.”
“The program has minimal cost, and is a very effective way of disposing of the problem drugs,” Goldbaum said.
But Lovick knows about the opposition.
“It’s frustrating to me,” Lovick said.
“I heard the same thing when I proposed a mandatory seat belt law in the Senate.
“If we could do it for a half-cent a prescription, they’d still push back.
“We can’t walk away from this problem; we all need to do what we need to do.”
“In 2011, when Sen. Adam Kline first introduced the bill in the Senate, pharmaceutical lobbyists ran confusing ads that undermined public support and led to the bill stalling in the House,” Fenton-Wallace said.
“This is one reason the bill is in jeopardy now, and if it doesn’t make it through the Senate this time, it will die.”
For instance, according to Drug Take Back officials, last year, PhRMA lobbyists ran ads saying that the DEA recommends putting old medicines in the trash if mixed with coffee grounds.
In reality, the DEA’s first choice for drug disposal is secure drug “take back” programs.
Prescription drugs are easy targets for curious teens and kids, when left unused in homes.
Washington state spends $31.7 million to hospitalize and treat children for unintentional poisonings from medicines, cover emergency room costs for kids who accidentally ingested medications, and on expenses for children who have overdosed.
There are voluntary drug “take back” programs in place now, but they can’t do the job properly and are funded with tax dollars.
Bartell Drug Stores, Group Health and the Snohomish County Sheriff each have medicine disposal points, but the Sheriff’s office isn’t really funded nor charged with that duty.
And through a strange-but-true set of archaic federal drug laws, Bartell’s (or any other pharmacy) is allowed to dispense controlled medicines but not to retrieve them for proper disposal.
So for now, you can take old non-controlled medicines to Bartell’s, but you must take controlled meds to the Sheriff’s office.
A permanent “take back” program can save human life and protect the environment.
To learn more about the Secure Medicine Return Bill, visit: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=5234&year=2011.
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