The idea that sealed, unused prescription drugs are being thrown out while low-income residents struggle to afford the same medication is prompting state legislators to take action.
A bill, (A-2188/S-2615) advancing in the Legislature would create a central repository to redistribute drugs no longer needed by their original recipient. The bill is scheduled for a vote today in the Assembly.
The measure is designed to reduce the amount of wasted pharmaceuticals, prevent unused drugs from falling into the wrong hands, and relieve the financial pressure on low-income residents in need of medicine.
Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Hunterdon and Mercer), a sponsor of the bill, said in a statement that residents without insurance coverage struggle to pay for prescriptions.
“At the same time, hospitals and nursing home facilities are disposing of medications when a patient switches prescriptions or passes away, even though the prescription drugs are still in their original, tamper-resistant packaging,” Turner said. “This recycling program can help some of New Jersey’s most needy obtain their needed medications and get healthy.”
Assembly members also cited the high cost of some medication that is tossed out when voicing support for the bill. Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee Chairman Herb Conaway Jr. (D-Burlington), a doctor, is the lead Assembly sponsor.
The bill would require the state Department of Health to collect donated, sealed medication and redistribute it to pharmacies, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities that choose to enroll in the program. Donations would be made at participating facilities. Under the legislation, the department could contract with a private company to implement and administer the program,.
Prescription drugs donated under the legislation must have at least six months remaining before their expiration date. Medication that isn’t sealed, like open bottles of pills, cannot be donated for recycling.
If the bill were enacted, New Jersey would join 37 other states with similar laws.
The Senate version of the bill has bipartisan sponsors, including Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego (R-Atlantic, Burlington and Camden). In addition, the measure received bipartisan support in both legislative health committees.
Estimates for the amount of prescription drugs that go unused each year exceed $1 billion.
The Medical Society of New Jersey supported the bill, with society officials arguing that it could reduce the abuse of drugs such as opioids by someone who is not the original recipient.
“We want to be involved in any solutions to reduce abuse and diversion,” of prescription drugs, MSNJ legislative affairs manager Mishael Azam said.
The state’s nursing homes also supported the measure. Health Care Association of New Jersey Vice President John Indyk said nursing home staff spend hours each day disposing of unused prescriptions.
“It just gets tossed in the trash – we’d like to see it be put to better use for the indigent, people that are underinsured,” Indyk said.
The bill was opposed by the state Board of Pharmacy, which maintained that pharmacies couldn’t ensure the integrity and stability of medications returned by patients.
The board has said that it would support the concept with changes. These include a requirement that has been included in an amendment that all returned medication be evaluated by trained pharmacy staff.
The bill also was opposed by the state Council of Chain Drug Stores.
The Senate version of bill has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further review.