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New York state announces new initiatives to protect consumers & waterways from unsafe disposal of unused prescription medicines

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Thu, Feb 2nd 2017 06:20 pm

DEC programs encourage pharmacies to 'take back' medicines

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has announced two new initiatives to encourage the proper management and disposal of products potentially harmful to public health and the environment. The pharmaceutical take-back program is a $1 million pilot program promoting the proper disposal of unwanted or unused prescription medicines that covers the costs of consumer drug collection boxes and disposal for two years. 

The state's second initiative, the environmental audit incentive program, offers incentives to pharmacies to better identify, manage and properly dispose of certain materials currently regulated under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, including some medicines, batteries, ignitable liquids, and lamps containing mercury.

"Over the last year, DEC has worked with pharmacies, groceries and other businesses to protect consumers and the environment from the unsafe and irresponsible disposal of prescription medicines and other materials such as batteries," DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. "DEC's new initiatives for pharmacies demonstrate Gov. Cuomo's commitment to protecting the environment and New Yorkers while working cooperatively with the business community. I'd like to thank Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Steve Englebright and the New York State Assembly for their leadership in ensuring this funding was included in the historic 2016 $300 million Environmental Protection Fund." 

Unused medicines that are not safely disposed of and destroyed can reach bodies of water and adversely impact aquatic life. There are also concerns about unused pharmaceuticals getting into the wrong hands. According to recent reports by the Center for Disease Control, one U.S. citizen dies every 14 minutes from a drug overdose (100 deaths per day). Today, unintentional prescription opioid overdose kills more Americans than cocaine and heroin combined, and drug abuse has surpassed motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of injury and death. The U.S. government has declared this public health threat an epidemic.

Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, "Prescription drugs provide great medical benefits to those who need them. But when they're no longer needed, they should be properly disposed of to help prevent prescription drug abuse. Providing a safe and easy way for consumers to dispose of unused prescription medicine through their local pharmacy can make people and the environment safer and healthier."

The 2016-17 state budget included $1 million through the Environmental Protection Fund for the statewide pilot take-back program, which will be used to cover the full cost of purchasing U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-compliant medication drop boxes, as well as the cost of pick up, transport, and destruction of all collected waste pharmaceuticals by a DEA-registered reverse distributor for a period of two years. Pharmacies that would like to participate in this program are encouraged to apply online at DEC's website. The deadline for applications is May 1.

Pharmacies have been subject to RCRA requirements for years, but widespread compliance issues have become apparent. Under DEC's unique environmental audit incentive program for pharmacies, participants will sign an audit agreement and be given time to adopt best practices. Participating pharmacies will then audit their operations, disclose violations to DEC, and take corrective action to address identified violations within a specific timeframe. Program incentives include streamlined, but equally protective regulatory requirements, and a waiver of penalties for violations that fall within the scope of the agreement.

Pharmacies interested in entering the audit program and/or the pilot pharmaceutical take-back program must return a signed agreement to DEC no later than May 1. More information can be found on DEC's website.

"Increasing the availability of drug collection options is an important investment. Keeping pharmaceuticals out of the wrong hands and out of our water is a win-win for public health and the environment," said Englebright, chairman of the Assembly committee on environmental conservation.

"Pharmacists across New York state share the concerns of DEC regarding the proper disposal of prescription medications and commend them for funding a statewide pilot take-back program to cover the cost of compliant medication drop boxes and related destruction costs," said Kathy Febraio, executive director of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York. "This program will increase protection of the environment and improve public safety without placing an undue burden on community pharmacy."

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