Pharmaceutical Giants Resist Maine's "Take it Back" Drive

PharmaceuticalsThe state of Maine has had enough.

A recent AP investigation revealed that concentrations of pharmaceuticals are showing up on our nation’s drinking water – everything from antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones.

Maine wants to become the first state to require drug companies to collect and properly dispose of unused medications. The idea is being cheered by state agencies, public health and environmental advocates.

Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais, the bill’s sponsor said “there’s a great deal of support. But drug companies don’t want to see this (happen).”

Drug manufacturers would have until January, under Perry’s bill, to establish a system to collect unwanted or expired prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. Mainers would also be allowed to mail in unwanted pills and other medications, should this bill become law.

At least 5 states have proposed similar legislation, though none have as yet become law.

Maine already has a first-in-the nation mail-in program, with mailers available in pharmacies around the state. Success has its drawbacks, however. Some stores have already run out of the envelopes, and the program has run out of funding.

“Unfortunately,” Perry said, “we’re seeing more and more of the (drug) waste getting into our waters. These are side effects of just having all these pills sitting around.”

Pharmaceutical industry representatives argue the cost of such a “take back” program would be upwards of $20 million a year.

Pharmaceutical industryMarjorie Powell, senior assistant general counsel for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said the bill would do more harm than good.

“We think it’s not necessary and it potentially raises several additional risks,” Powell said. It would, for example, “make an easy target for theft and lead to increased drug abuse,” she said.

“All of our scientific and some other groups’ studies say if you dispose of unused medicines in the household trash, that is a safe way of disposing it,” Powell said.

Sounds simple, but the reality shows the problem is much larger and complex.

In November 2008, a four-hour medication collection in Brunswick, Maine netted over 16,000 doses of controlled substances such as prescription pain pills and 825 pounds of other medications.

“If we’re getting that much in this little area,” said Connie Lewis of Harpswell, who helped organize unwanted-medication collections as part of the Merrymeeting Bay TRIAD, “imagine what’s out there.”

Expect drug companies to fight Maine and the other states to prevent something so responsible from becoming law.

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