Measure could undermine state’s biotech industry

Posted March 12, 2010, at 6:50 p.m.

Maine’s legislators are debating a measure, LD 821, that would require biopharmaceutical companies to “operate and finance the collection, transportation and disposal of unwanted drugs.” While the bill’s admirable goal is to help facilitate cleaner waterways in our state, the legislation is unnecessary, costly and potentially dangerous. And just doesn’t make sense. If passed, this legislation could seriously undermine investment in Maine’s promising biotech industry and result in fewer biotech jobs in Maine.

Improperly disposed of medications can enter the environment if flushed down the toilet, but a take-back bill doesn’t change improper consumer disposal habits. Patient education on appropriate medication disposal would better serve that goal.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has long-established guidelines for disposal of unused and expired medications in a way that protects the environment. It’s simply unnecessary to change those guidelines at a cost that will be passed on to consumers.

A take-back program could have the unintended consequence of increasing expenditures by those who buy medicines: patients, insurers and the state of Maine. Unnecessary and costly programs don’t make sense when an economical disposal solution, approved by the FDA, is already in place.

The measure also could impede valuable medical research. By burdening drug companies with the task of collecting and disposing of unused medicines, the bill would siphon money away from research into debilitating illnesses such as cancer and HIV-AIDS. At the same time, it would drive up the cost of medicines at the local drugstore.

We also believe the legislation could have an adverse economic impact on Maine’s fledgling biotechnology and biopharmaceutical community. The state’s biopharmaceutical sector supports a total of 12,341 direct and indirect jobs and $2.1 billion in output. These companies also invested $47 million in research and development in Maine in 2006. We need legislators’ help to protect and grow these high-wage, high-skilled jobs, not to pass unneeded laws that could jeopardize these jobs.

Collecting medications through take-back programs can dangerously increase the potential for poisonings and drug abuse through drug diversion. Unused and expired medication should be disposed of in the trash, after sealing with a plastic bag and mixing with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or coffee grounds. Collecting medicine in one place, which this proposed take-back program advocates, would create opportunities for drug diversion and abuse.

The vast majority (more than 90 percent) of pharmaceutical compounds found in the water supply are the result of patient use and excretion, not medication disposal. Very small, trace amounts of compounds may be detected in the water from improper disposal by flushing, but these have not been found to affect human health. A drug take-back program would do nothing to change those trace amounts. On the other hand, enhanced patient education about proper medication disposal could make a real difference.

As written, LD 821 represents a costly, unnecessary and potentially dangerous means of handling this issue. The New England Biotech Association and the Biotech Association of Maine believe the safer drug disposal options already in place should adequately address lawmakers’ concerns. Better patient education — not another bureaucratic program — offers the best pathway to our common goal of protecting Maine’s waterways and its people.

Gary R. Goodrich is the president of the Biotech Association of Maine. Paul R. Pescatello is the chairman of the New England Biotech Association.

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