Effort to change drug take-back program falls short

Bill to have pharmaceutical companies dispose of pills backed by health care, law enforcement officials

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Efforts to require pharmaceutical companies to pay for safe medicine disposal in Washington have fallen short.

The Secure Medicine Take-Back Bill, Senate Bill 5234, failed to garner enough support for a vote in the Washington State Senate before Tuesday’s deadline for bills to move forward.

The legislation -- backed by more than 200 law enforcement agencies, health departments, health care professionals, substance abuse prevention coalitions and environmental groups -- would have required pharmaceutical companies that sell prescription and over-the-counter drugs in Washington to create and run a medication take-back program.

Take Back Your Meds, the group representing the bill’s backers, estimates the bill would have cost pharmaceutical companies less than 2 cents for every $16 in sales. Annual sales of medicines in Washington are about $4 billion.

This is the fourth year in a row the group has attempted to pass legislation. The bill has never passed either chamber.

The organization attributed the bill’s defeat to lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry.

“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 Slack, with Take Back Your Meds and commander of the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force.

Jeff Trewhitt, spokesman for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), said it’s prudent for the state to hold off on passing any legislation until the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration completes revisions to regulations regarding collection of unused medications.

“It’s a good idea to wait for the comprehensive report,” Trewhitt said. “Those DEA guidelines are going to provide important guidance.”

The DEA pays for nationwide take-back events, typically twice a year. However, Take Back Your Meds supporters expect those events will go away once the agency revises its regulations this year.

In Clark County, the sheriff’s office and municipal police departments, except the Vancouver Police Department, collect controlled substances at their offices during business hours. Last year, they collected 1,724 pounds of drugs, said Jim Mansfield, with Clark County environmental services.

The departments paid to incinerate the drugs. A total cost was not available.

Clark County is one of the 17 counties in the state to have a locally run drug-take back program.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health;http://facebook.com/reporterharshman;marissa.harshman@columbian.com.