Feds must make it easier to start prescription drug take-back programs

We’ve written previously about FDA guidelines for proper disposal of prescription drugs. But with so many discarded medications winding up in landfills and, worse, the water supply, the best solution is no longer flushing drugs or throwing them away. It’s turning them in to prescription drug take-back programs in your community.

The problem, as the Washington Post reports, is that these programs are difficult to set up and maintain — thanks to government restrictions, among other factors.

According to the Post:

In much of the country … drug take-back sites … are almost impossible to find … “We are farther ahead with recycling our garbage than we are with recycling drugs,” said Babs Buchheister, the nursing director of Calvert County.

A major hurdle in any take-back program is what to do with controlled substances — for example, morphine — which constitute about 10 percent of all prescription medications in this country. Under Drug Enforcement Administration rules, a third party — beyond the patient and pharmacist — may not legally have possession of such drugs.

Thus, a family member or caregiver cannot return an unused portion of a controlled substance to a take-back program on the patient’s behalf. And any take-back program must have a DEA-registered representative — a pharmacist or a law enforcement officer — present to accept the drug.

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Fortunately, a bill has been introduced in Congress that would make take-back programs easier to create and administer. The Safe Drug Disposal Act, introduced by Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) and co-sponsored by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), is designed to encourage state take-back programs. Among its provisions, the bill would permit caregivers to turn over regulated drugs for disposal at DEA-approved, government-run sites.

This legislation is much needed — particularly when you consider that:

  • the average American takes more than 12 prescription drugs annually, with more than 3.8 billion prescriptions purchased each year;
  • 19 million tons of active pharmaceutical ingredients are dumped into the nation’s waste stream every year; and
  • the EPA has identified more than 100 pharmaceuticals and personal-care products in the nation’s drinking water, including antibiotics, steroids, hormones and antidepressants.

We’ve added a button in our blog’s sidebar to show our support for SMARxT DISPOSAL, an initiative by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the pharmaceutical industry to encourage the safe, environmentally responsible disposal of prescription drugs.

We’re hoping that at some point, SMARxT DISPOSAL will add a nationwide list of drug take-back programs to its Web site.

About Cary Byrd

eDrugSearch founder, Cary Byrd, has been called an “e-health innovator” by MarketIntellNow, interviewed by top pharmaceutical industry journalists, invited to Matthew Holt’s Health 2.0 Conference and a Consumer Report's health summit, and highlighted on numerous health blogs.

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