Expired Pharmaceutical Disposal

Without checking, I tried to drop off some expired prescription drugs at my health plan pharmacy for disposal and found, to my surprise, that they would not take them. It was suggested that I check with my town hall. Checking the Belmont web site, I saw that there was a 24 hour drop box at the police station for expired and/or unused prescription medications.

While I think that it’s great that the town has established a drop off point, I feel that there are a few reasons why this step to cut down on pollution and misuse is inadequate.

Problem 1. It is too easy to dump old meds down the toilet.
Problem 2. Having the town maintain a single location that is rarely frequented and requires a special trip, promotes problem 1.
Problem 3. The pollution caused by improperly disposed of prescription drugs is, an economist might note, an external public cost of pharmaceutical, production, distribution and sales.

Since the pollution amelioration cost in the manufacture of drugs is borne by those organizations in the manufacture of drugs, through waste disposal regulation and expense and, presumably passed on, in part, in the price of pharmaceuticals, it seems appropriate that the problem of pollution arising from consumer mis-disposal should be defrayed by the organizations closest to the source of the problem and which is making a profit from the business, i.e. the consumer drug outlets.

Hence, my suggestion is that Massachusetts require all pharmacies to accept back at no charge, and properly dispose of outdated or unused prescription meds. If the pharmacies were responsible just for collecting, safekeeping and delivery to a designated local municipal collection site, such as, in Belmont, the police station, it is hard to see how that would be burdensome and seems that it would be a minor, but appropriate, cost of doing business.

While I have no data whatsoever, it seems, conjecturally at least, that the benefits from such a regulation might be:

Benefit 1. Creating many drop off points.
Benefit 2. Drawing cooperation in the effort to promote proper disposal from those who most often have expired drugs, i.e. people going to drug stores.
Benefit 3. Placing some of the cost burden, albeit a minor part, of pollution prevention on those who, in part, are making a profit from the business.
Benefit 3. Providing an alternative, perhaps not as super convenient as a toilet, but still orders of magnitude more convenient than a single police station drop box.

I would welcome other ideas, thoughts and responses from Will, your staff, the public as well as all corners of the legal pharmaceutical industry.

4 replies on “Expired Pharmaceutical Disposal”

  1. Thanks, Ralph.

    This is a good thought. Prescription pain killers should never be left lying around a house.

    It’s something I’d like to help address. Let us get a lay-of-the-land on this issue — my impression is that a number of proposals of this type have been considered by the legislature in the last couple of years. I’ll try to assemble a report on what proposals have been made and how they fared.

    1. There is a bill, H2126, pending in the House Ways & Means Committee, that would create guidelines to govern the prescription drug drop-off grant program (text below). You could inquire of your state representative about the prospects for progress on the bill.

      H2126. SECTION 1. Chapter 22 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2010 Official Edition, is hereby amended by adding the following section:-

      Section 22. Prescription Drug Drop-off Box Grant Program

      The department of public safety shall establish a grant program, subject to appropriation, to be known as the prescription drug drop-off box grant program, for the purpose of providing grants to assist police departments with the purchase, placement, operation, or maintenance of prescription drug drop-off boxes at police stations.

      The department of public safety shall establish guidelines governing the prescription drug drop-off box grant program.

      In addition, the comprehensive drug and substance abuse bill passed two years ago did have provisions for disposal. I have pasted below information I received from the Chief of Staff to Senator Keenan, Senate Chair of the Committee on Public Health about this issue.

      From Senator Keenan’s office: I do know that we took some action on “drop box” access in the omnibus substance abuse bill that was passed — S.2142 is the final Senate number. It contained the following language:

      —–SECTION 34. The department of public health shall compile a list of prescription drug drop boxes and other safe locations to dispose of prescription drugs within the commonwealth. The list shall be published on the department’s website, not later than January 2, 2015, and shall be updated on a regular basis.

      The department shall compile a list of counties within the commonwealth that do not have a prescription drug drop box or other safe location to dispose of prescription drugs. The department shall file the list with the house and senate clerks, who shall forward the list to the senate and house committees on ways and means and the joint committee on mental health and substance abuse, not later than January 2, 2015.—–

      A committee staff person explained further about the legislation as follows:

      This will give us a clear picture of the resources we have available, and will allow us to develop a coherent plan that offers access to drop boxes.

      The specific placement of a box has been a difficult issue – particularly with pharmacies, because of the enormous street value of the drugs that would be contained in the box. This makes the pharmacy an even greater target for robbery, and most pharmacies are not places that have high tech security and the appropriate security and armament to consistently deter robberies. This is why the choice has usually been to place them in police departments.

      I hope that’s helpful. Also, if your constituent is concerned more generally with what we are doing to combat substance abuse, you can refer to S.2142 as the major action for this session, on that subject.

  2. I feel there is not enough concern for our environment as far as disposal of drugs of any kind. The EPA is not active enough on this subject. I do feel there should be a more convenient way to dispose of unused prescriptions. Especially for elderly or people who live remotely.

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