]Unused prescription drugs, such as opioids, that sit in many bathroom medicine cabinets pose a danger, since they can be used by young people experimenting with dangerous drugs or by visitors with addictions.
That’s why efforts are underway at both the state and federal levels that would make it easier for New Jerseyans to throw out unneeded drugs.
A bill A-2859/S-2369 — part of the broader effort to combat prescription-drug abuse — would make permanent a state-run pilot program to collect unused prescriptions.
The program, Project Medicine Drop, has been in place for four years. It lets people use drop boxes in place at local police departments, as well as other state, county and municipal law-enforcement facilities. The legislation would also require the state to provide additional drop boxes at the offices of other interested agencies as funding becomes available.
At the same time, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration has rolled out new regulations that allow hospitals, pharmacies and other healthcare facilities to collect and dispose of unused prescriptions.
The state bill became the first in a package of legislation aimed at curbing drug overdoses to win passage by either house of the Legislature, as the Assembly passed it in a bipartisan 68-to-4 vote last week.
Under the bill, any police department that doesn’t have a receptacle would be required to post a public notice saying where the nearest drop-off container is located. In addition, the state would be required to continue to maintain an updated list on its website of all of the drop-off locations. The website currently lists 77 locations, including at least one location available 24 hours per day, seven days per week, in each county.
Angelo Valente, executive director for the nonprofit Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, said that an online map of drug drop-off locations in the state has drawn 100,000 visitors since Project Medicine Drop was launched. He pledged that his organization would continue to publicize the program as the number of drop-off locations increases.
The measure has drawn broad support from state healthcare groups, including doctor, insurance and hospital associations, as well as mental-health and addiction care providers and advocates.
Sen. Robert W. Singer (R-Monmouth and Ocean) expressed frustration that some people continue to dump unused prescriptions down their toilets. Singer said he would like to see the state publicize the environmental health consequences of the practice.
“It really is a very ill-advised situation, because this does affect the quality of water,” said Singer, who as chairman of the Lakewood Municipal Utilities Authority oversees his town’s water and sewer services.
Assembly sponsor Daniel R. Benson (D-Mercer and Middlesex) cited the rising toll of drug addiction among young people in explaining his support for the measure.
“Unfortunately, there are a number of ways to access these types of drugs, but studies show that in many cases access begins at home with unsecured prescriptions,” he said in a statement.
Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Hunterdon, Somerset and Warren) was one of the four Assembly members to vote against the bill. While he said he supported the program, he was concerned about the potential impact on the state budget of requiring the state to fund the drop boxes.
However, the bill only requires the state to pay for the receptacles — which cost $890 each — as funding is made available.
Along with the legislative package, other regulatory efforts are underway to prevent drug addiction.
The DEA recently announced new regulations implementing a 2010 federal law promoting safe disposal of prescriptions. Prior to the law, healthcare providers weren’t permitted to accept unused prescriptions; now they will be able to collect these drugs for disposal.
The DEA also recently reclassified hydrocodone as a Schedule II controlled substance, which prohibits pharmacies from refilling prescriptions for frequently misused drugs like Vicodin.
In addition, state regulators are requiring new prescription “blanks” — the forms used for prescriptions — with additional security features, such as ink that changes colors, microscopic print that is illegible when photocopied and a unique barcode that will be used with the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program, which tracks all sales of prescriptions for dangerous drugs.