Monday, January 28, 2013

Drug takeback programs: a puzzling federal rule change

One of the advantages of drug takeback programs -- voluntary efforts by which citizens return unwanted or unused prescription drugs for proper disposal -- is that they can be a source for determining what drugs are often being wasted. Here in Maine, tabulation of such information informed changes to the state Medicaid program to reduce waste -- by shorter initial prescriptions, for instance - and save the taxpayer money.

This is why yesterday's Maine Sunday Telegram story should be of interest. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency has proposed rules changes that would explicitly forbid such data collection. The DEA declined to say if they'd considered these advantages when drafting the rules, which aim to prevent diversion of drugs and preserve patient anonymity. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine and a legislative champion of drug takebacks, says she'll be seeking further clarification from the DEA on this point.

At the state level, the story also notes an effort by the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, former chemical industry lobbyist Patricia Aho, to redefine rules governing how collected drugs are to be disposed. In short, they'd be reclassified from hazardous to household waste, allowing them to be burned in municipal waste incinerators in-state, with a hundred-fold cost savings. Whether this is sound policy or note depends on the conclusions and efficacy of upcoming tests at Portland's ecoMaine facility.

[Update, 9/26/15: Both rule changes have since been implemented, while US EPA has resumed funding of the national Take Back program, I report in today's Press Herald.]

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