Washington legislators are considering a new way to contain one of our drug problems: collecting the containers.
Millions of prescription and nonprescription drug bottles and their contents are sitting around in medicine cabinets and bedroom drawers. Many are relatively harmless unless taken in monumental doses; many are toxic at very low levels, especially if ingested in combination or with alcohol.
Too often, those containers end up in the wrong hands. According to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, 7 million Americans are prescription drug abusers, including 2,500 teenagers a day who get their first high on pharmaceuticals sitting around the house or made available at parties where the chemistry is casual and potentially deadly.
The amount of loose medication out there is staggering. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has held three National Prescription Drug Take Back Days since September 2010. Almost 500 tons of pharmaceuticals was returned to 5,327 sites.
Addiction to many of those substances begets crime, notably pharmacy heists by thieves with, for example, an OxyContin habit.
In response, SB 5234 would set up an industry-funded, nonprofit Medicine Return Corp. that would put drug-return centers in every county and the major cities. The drugs would be separated from packaging – helping protect patient information – and directed to hazardous waste disposal facilities, where they could be safely destroyed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says some drugs can be safely flushed down the toilet.
Establishing the collection centers also eliminates another problem: Anyone accepting controlled substances for disposal could be exposing themselves to prosecution for possession. Group Health Cooperative, which has a take-back program, turns away controlled drugs.
Law enforcement agencies have united in support of the bill, as have many groups representing pharmacists, drug treatment centers and environmentalists.
The pharmaceutical industry, which would pick up the tab for the program – up to $2.5 million – says SB 5234 is an overreaction to a problem that can be solved with more education about proper handling of unwanted medicines and better tracking of prescriptions so law enforcement officials can more readily identify doctors too free with painkillers.
Former Spokane state representative Jeff Gomboski, now a lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, says the bill is “nebulous, bureaucratic” overkill. Progress on a comparable program in British Columbia has been dismal, he says.
But if SB 5234 is not the cure for Washington’s drug overdose, it’s close. Most people have no clue as to how to rid their homes of unwanted medicines properly or where to take them. If pharmacies or providers like Group Health are taking them back, there’s a cost to that. And many get their meds through the mail. How do those go back?
The media is full of advertising promoting drugs. Ever seen one discussing proper disposal?