government

Drug-disposal bill gets Senate's nod

The legislation seeks to provide safe, lawful ways for physicians and patients to get rid of unused medications and avoid health risks.

By Chris Silva — Posted Aug. 24, 2010

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The Senate has unanimously passed legislation that would give physicians and consumers additional options for disposing of unused prescription drugs.

By providing safe and lawful ways for patients and physicians to get rid of unused medicines, illicit drug use could be curtailed and potential deaths could be avoided, said lawmakers who supported the bill, which passed Aug. 4.

"Unused and unwanted medication creates a health hazard, but federal law currently prohibits people from giving their old medication to established drug take-back programs," said Sen. John Cornyn (R, Texas), who introduced the legislation with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D, Minn.). "As a result, unused medication is often diverted by drug abusers or improperly flushed into our water system. This cost-free and common-sense bill will allow state and private entities to institute responsible drug take-back programs."

As much as 17% of prescribed medication goes unused and could contribute to environmental problems if not properly disposed, Cornyn said. The Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act aims to reduce this risk by permitting doctors and their patients to deliver unused medications to programs that would be administered by designated state and private facilities.

Sen. Bob Corker (R, Tenn.) said he's pushing the bill in an attempt to mitigate a prescription drug problem that has become particularly pervasive in his home state. In 2007, 15.7 million controlled substance prescriptions were written for just 5.7 million people in Tennessee. In addition, the rate of unintentional poisoning deaths in Tennessee increased by 53% from 2002 to 2006 and 138 people died from prescription drug misuse in 2007, according to the state's medical examiner's office.

Nationally, an estimated 4 billion prescriptions are written annually, and up to 40% of drugs dispensed outside of hospitals go unused, generating about 200 million pounds of pharmaceutical waste each year.

"Our bill enacts sensible reforms endorsed by the [Drug Enforcement Agency] and state attorneys general that will enable individuals and long-term-care facilities to safely dispose of controlled substances," Corker said.

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