Public Safety Protection for Families and the Environment Now Uncertain
Olympia, WA (Feb. 16, 2012)
Though backed by a large and diverse coalition of supporters, Senate Bill 5234, the Secure Medicine Take‐Back Bill, was denied a vote in the Washington State Senate before Tuesday’s “cross‐over” cutoff. The proposed legislation would have required drug manufacturers selling medicines in Washington state to provide and finance a secure take‐back and disposal program for left‐over or expired medicines from residents – at a cost of roughly 2 cents per prescription to drug manufacturers.
Proponents believe the measure was several votes short of passage after strong opposition from the powerful pharmaceutical industry eroded support developed by coalition proponents. This is the fourth year in a row where the secure medicine take‐back legislation has been before both houses of the Legislature. The list of actively supporting organizations has grown each year, yet the bill has never been passed by either chamber.
“We are failing our communities when the voices of law enforcement, public health officials, substance abuse professionals, children’s advocates, and other community leaders are drowned out by the money and power of the pharmaceutical industry lobbyists,” said Patric L. Slack, commander of the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force. “Instead of relying on taxpayers to cover the costs of drug take back, shouldn’t the very manufacturers that put these products out there be held responsible for funding their removal?”
A Father’s Loss Becomes A Mission To Protect Families
Firefighter Scott DePuy was integral in getting Washington State Council of Fire Fighters (WSCFF) support for the bill. He understood the dangers caused by unused medicines, firsthand. “We lost our son Ryan because of left‐over medicines and addiction,” said DePuy. “We want to prevent other parents from this agonizing pain. As a firefighter, there are times that we’re called to a scene when a child has overdosed or been poisoned from old or unsecured medicines. It breaks my heart because it didn’t have to happen. Drug take‐back programs can help keep our families safe. With this lack of legislative traction, the big drug companies won, and the people lost.”
In Washington state alone, about one‐third of prescription and over‐the‐counter drugs sold or 33 million containers are left unused, many finding their way into the mouths of children. There’s been an alarming increase in accidental poisonings and teen drug abuse in the last decade ‐‐ every fifteen minutes a child under 4 will overdose on drugs found at home. Annually, the 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 expenses for children who have overdosed.
“Without this legislation, our communities are left to try to sort out this problem,” said Scott Daniels, Deputy Director, Kitsap Public Health District. “We need to somehow reduce the epidemic of poisonings and abuse from prescription medicines, and we need assistance from the companies who manufacture those drugs and promote their sales. This drug take back legislation is a critical piece of a more comprehensive strategy.”
Drug Lobbyists: Creating Confusion
The powerful pharmaceutical industry remains strongly opposed to assisting communities with financing or operating medicine take-back programs, and is the legislation’s sole opposition. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) have contributed to confusion about the merits of safe medicine disposal.
In 2011, their efforts to block drug take‐back legislation in the Washington State Legislature included issuing ads that said that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recommended putting old medicines in the trash if mixed with coffee grounds. In reality, the DEA, the FDA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) all recommend secure medicine return as their first choice for safe drug disposal. As a stop‐gap measure to address the crisis of prescription drug abuse, the DEA has been coordinating national prescription drug take‐back days twice a year that rely on local law enforcement staffing.
However, these DEA take‐back events are short‐term, expected to end after 2012, when the DEA issues new regulations for additional options for collection of narcotics and other prescription drugs that are controlled substances. Senate Bill 5234 would have incorporated these federal regulations and clarified responsibilities for providing a sustainable statewide medicine take‐back system.
Secure Medicine Take-Back Program Implementation For Pennies Per Prescription
Currently, only 17 out of 39 counties in Washington have drug take‐back programs in limited locations, which are predominantly financed by the local jurisdictions. Local funding for these programs is drying up and many have said they will not be able to continue funding their own take‐back programs.
“Our neighbors to the north in British Columbia have a similar program, run and paid for by drug manufacturers, which collected over 133,000 pounds of medicine in 2010,” said Joe Cammack, the owner of Jim’s Pharmacy in Port Angeles. “Don’t Washington families deserve the same protection? The fact that the drug industry is paying dozens of lobbyists to block this legislation rather than provide a take-back system that would cost them at most a couple pennies per container to help our communities is outrageous.”
About Take Back Your Meds
Take Back Your Meds is a group of over 260 health organizations, police, drugstores, local governments, environmental groups, and others in Washington State who support medicine take‐back programs to reduce access to highly‐addictive drugs, reduce the risk of poisonings, and reduce environmental contamination. These organizations support creation of a secure, statewide medicine return program for unwanted medicines from households that is financed by pharmaceutical manufacturers, and that does not rely on state and local government funding. For more information on Take Back Your Meds and the safe disposal of pharmaceuticals, visit http://www.TakeBackYourMeds.org.