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Another Voice: Drug disposal bill shouldn’t get lost in Albany shuffle

By Brian Smith

More than 4 billion prescription medications are dispensed in the U.S. annually, and as much as 200 million pounds of those drugs go unused. Albany lawmakers are now considering a smart solution to ensure that all New Yorkers have convenient access to safe pharmaceutical disposal options, like drop boxes at retail pharmacies and local police precincts. We need Albany to act this year to thwart a burgeoning threat to public health and our environment.

Many people stockpile unused drugs in household medicine cabinets, which are then accessible to abusers or lead to accidental poisonings, especially among children. Seven out of 10 people who abuse prescription drugs get them from friends or family members.

The lack of safe disposal options is also perpetuating the harmful practice of flushing unwanted drugs. Drugs that are flushed are polluting our Great Lakes and adversely impacting aquatic life. A study led by the University at Buffalo found high concentrations of antidepressants in numerous fish in the Niagara River.

It is encouraging that a bipartisan pair of state legislators stepped up with a solution to this problem in New York. The Drug Take Back Act, which would arguably be the strongest state policy for safe pharmaceutical disposal in our nation, was introduced in the Senate and Assembly.

The Drug Take Back Act would establish a statewide pharmaceutical disposal program funded by the pharmaceutical industry, not the taxpayers. The pharmaceutical industry makes billions of dollars in profits; however, they currently pay nothing for safe drug disposal in New York, while taxpayers pay millions.

The cost to pharmaceutical manufacturers would be negligible – communities that passed similar laws estimated a cost of just a couple pennies per prescription.

The bill requires all retail chain pharmacies provide customers with free drug disposal, while also allowing independent pharmacies and local law enforcement to participate on a voluntary basis. This robust program would allow for safe disposal of controlled substances, including opioids, and will make drug disposal safe and convenient for all New Yorkers.

The bill is supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, is wildly popular among the public, and is supported by a diverse coalition of public health and environmental organizations. Yet, with the state legislative session set to wrap up on June 20 and the legislature yet to pass an agreed upon bill in both houses, we are at risk of missing this critical opportunity.

While the Senate and Assembly originally introduced identical legislation, the Assembly has since made changes to ensure that our state law would conform to federal Drug Enforcement Administration regulations. The Senate must also make these critical, noncontroversial changes to its bill and pass it as soon as possible. This issue is too important to get lost in the end of session shuffle in Albany.

Brian Smith is associate executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Buffalo.

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