SEATTLE — Hoping to stem what they say is a rising tide of prescription drug abuse and accidental poisonings, Washington legislators want to require drug makers to set up and pay for a statewide program to collect unused prescription drugs and other medicine.
The measure’s prime sponsor, Sen. Adam Kline, said this week he believes he has majority support for Senate Bill 5234, which is awaiting a vote from the full Senate. The pharmaceutical industry has lobbied against the proposal, which has failed to pass in three previous legislative sessions.
“It’s necessary because we have a major public health problem. One of the major causes of death is people taking prescription drugs wrongfully,” said Kline, D-Seattle. The issue also is a problem for law enforcement, he added.
Supporters say the drug take-back program would provide a consistent, permanent way for people to get rid of excess over-the-counter and prescription medicine.
The goal, they say, is to keep the drugs away from teens and potential abusers who often get them from medicine cabinets, as well as to protect the environment by giving residents an alternative to flushing them down the toilet or putting them in landfills.
The measure would require drug producers to set up a nonprofit group to provide one drop-off location in each county and major city. Where drop-off sites aren’t possible, the program would have to set up a mail-in system.
If passed into law, it wouldn’t be the first time lawmakers required manufacturers to pay to dispose of their products.
In Washington, electronics manufacturers pay for a statewide program to recycle computers and TVs, and light manufacturers are required to run a similar program to dispose of lights containing toxic mercury.
Opponents such as Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America say the drug take-back program is unnecessary and hard to justify when an easy way to dispose of unused medicine already exists.
Marjorie Powell, the industry group’s senior assistant general counsel, said the most effective way to get rid of unused prescription drugs is to mix them with something unattractive, whether kitty litter or used coffee grounds, and then put them in a sealed container in the household trash.
“People are much more apt” to do this than go out of their way to find a drop-off location, she said.
On its website, the Food and Drug Administration advises consumers to dispose of medicines in the household trash if no medicine take-back program is available in the area.
Washington residents already can take most unwanted medicines to some pharmacies or community take-back programs. Only law enforcement can accept narcotics such as OxyContin and Vicodin, and some police stations and sheriff’s offices do take them.
Bill supporters say many parts of the state lack drop-off locations, and community-based programs are struggling find money to continue operate.
There are currently drug take-back programs in only 17 of the state’s 39 counties, said Margaret Shield, a policy liaison with Local Hazardous Waste Management in King County, which includes several governments in the county. Those programs have collected a total of more than 140,000 pounds of leftover drugs in recent years.
“It shouldn’t be a core function of law enforcement and local government to clean up the leftovers from multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies,” Shield said.
The Washington Association of Sheriffs &Police Chiefs, the Washington Poison Center, the Association of Northwest Pharmacies and others back the bill.
Some states have various statewide drug take-back programs. In Maine, residents can mail back their unused medicines in pre-paid envelopes, while residents in Iowa can take their unwanted drugs to over 400 community pharmacies in the state.
Medications that are improperly disposed of in the sewer system or landfills could enter drinking water sources. An Associated Press investigation in 2008 found at least 46 million Americans are supplied with drinking water that has tested positive for traces of pharmaceuticals. Researchers also have found evidence that even extremely diluted concentrations of pharmaceutical residues harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species in the wild.
“Why should we put more drugs into the environment?” asked Kline.
Washington Legislature: www.leg.wa.gov
Take Back Your Meds: http://bit.ly/xShNhj
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America: www.phrma.org