Currently the Legislature is considering a bill, LD 821, that would require pharmaceutical companies to help fund an unused prescription take-back program in the state. At present, the common method for an individual to dispose of unused medicines is through the trash or septic system, a method that is legal, but not necessarily safe for our environment or society. More commonly, unused medicines collect in our medicine cabinets and closets.
As a law enforcement officer of over 30 years, I have personally witnessed the evolution of drug use and abuse in our society. Illegal drug use, once found in the metropolitan inner cities, has found its way into rural America, and Maine is no exception. Many narcotic and opiate addictions began with the abuse of unused medicines, which are commonly prescribed as painkillers such as oxycodone. Even our children are not immune from the risk. As a sheriff, I see firsthand the lives of many families destroyed from habits that often began in the medicine cabinet.
For many reasons, senior citizens have a variety of expired medicines in their homes. With no easily accessible and environmentally friendly method of destruction, the pills just keep adding up. Consequently the risk for the senior of accidental overdose, theft and robbery dramatically increases. Every community has individuals that are addicted to drugs and are desperate for what the medicine cabinets of the senior can yield. Criminals don’t have to get their drug of choice smuggled in from some foreign county; it is no farther away than your own medicine cabinet.
Sheriff’s offices and police departments have been active through their local Triads to get these pharmaceuticals off the street. Across the state, Triads and law enforcement agencies have hosted drug take-back programs and the collections are safely destroyed.
What we have found, and supported by the sheer amounts of the collections, is that we live in a society that is eager for an anonymous, safe and easily accessible system to dispose of such medicines. While law enforcement agencies have been happy to help fill the void, it should be only a temporary fix until the system develops a take-back program.
A cooperative pilot project of the University of Maine Center on Aging and the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency has proved to be successful, but it may be short-lived because it is funded by the state. Individuals are given mail-in envelopes, and collected drugs are safely destroyed by MDEA. The MDEA reports a 104 percent increase of seized pharmaceutical pills compared to 2008, evidence of the problem.
The Legislature is considering a bill that would require pharmaceutical companies to contribute toward the cost of the mail-in program; a bill that pharmaceutical companies have lobbied against, citing increased costs to be passed along to the consumer. As a law enforcement officer, I would suggest redirecting drug advertising campaign dollars to help fund this drug return program.
The Committee on Health and Human Services has recommended an “ought to pass” vote and I urge our senators and representatives to support LD 821, as well.
Glenn Ross is the sheriff of Penobscot County.