House Health Passes Bill Implementing Drug Take-Back Kiosk Network

The drug takeback kiosks will help consumers remove the glut of excess opioids and other medications from society, cutting off access for would-be addicts and protecting the water supply. A partisan furor broke out over how best to do this.

A divided House Health Committee passed a bill on a 5-3 vote to make it easier for people to dispose of excess medications, in an effort to curtail the opioid epidemic and to prevent drugs from contaminating the environment.

House Bill 2645 directs the Department of Environmental Quality to solicit bids for a program manager who will implement a network of drug take-back kiosks across the state and educate the public about their existence. The program would be paid for by fees garnered from pharmaceutical manufacturers.

“The number one thing is prevention,” said Rep. Sheri Malstrom, D-Beaverton. “The real thing is we need to be tough and get as many of these pills out of general circulation. There are too many pills out there.”

According to the Oregon Coalition for the Responsible Use of Meds, almost 300 million opioid pills are prescribed each year in Oregon -- 70 pills for every man, woman and child. About a third of those pills are not even used, and 40 percent of teenagers who report abusing prescription drugs cite their parents’ pilfered medicine cabinet as a source.

But a partisan divide erupted about how to best help consumers safely dispose of the drugs. Flushing medication down the toilet can taint water supplies as well as aquatic ecosystems.

All three Republicans, led by Rep. Jodi Hack of Salem, walked out of the meeting, as they cried foul at Malstrom’s reminder to think of the children impacted by opioids and support her bill, causing a brief recess.

“We all are concerned about the opioid epidemic and protecting our kids,” said Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, when the three, led back by the committee chairman Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, returned. Malstrom’s bill “puts the focus on the environment and not public health. OHA has the education and experience in educating the public about this risk.”

Buehler, a physician, suggested a competing program, overseen instead by the Board of Pharmacy and the Oregon Health Authority, that would focus primarily on education, and put the cost of the take-back kiosks onto hospitals, pharmacies as well as taxpayers for kiosks at law enforcement agencies. All kiosks would be voluntary under Buehler’s alternative.

“The most efficient way [for proper disposal] is putting it in the trash,” Buehler said. “I think it’s much simpler.” However, some advocates oppose this idea, noting that children can still find drugs in the trash or addicts might find them in the Dumpster.

Buehler has additionally recommended mixing the medications in with kitty litter -- which undoubtedly would make them less appealing to interception.

Malstrom’s proposal puts the program under the Department of Environmental Quality, with kiosks paid for by the drug companies, built on the logic that the producers of hazardous materials should help destroy them. A similar program in King County, Washington, costs drug companies a penny for every $10 in revenue the companies earn.

The kiosks would be emptied at a hazardous waste disposal facility or a municipal solid waste incinerator. Both the program operator and drug manufacturers may be fined for non-compliance. The bill requires that every county get a kiosk and mandates one kiosk for every town with at least 20,000 residents, and one kiosk for every 20,000 urban residents.

However, nine rural Eastern Oregon counties have fewer than 20,000 people and three have fewer than 2,000 people, giving the program operator the option of a mail-back program for residents in these remote areas.

Republicans also argued for focusing the scope of the program on opioid prescriptions, not other prescription drugs or veterinary medications. (However, their bill does envision kiosks that accept all such medications.)

“It’s intended to get leftover drugs off the street. My problem is it goes well beyond prescription drugs and habit-forming drugs,” said Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Cottage Grove. “There are many products used by veterinarians that there are no abuse. This bill is so broad that it would incorporate our farmers, our ranchers in rural areas.”

The reference to farmers and ranchers was a head-scratcher for Greenlick: “This is a voluntary program. Nobody has to return their medications. One of the purposes is to protect the environment and keep people from flushing them down the toilet.”

Malstrom said she included veterinary medications because there have been reports of people abusing painkillers designed for animals.

On the federal level last July, President Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which among other things, expands disposal sites for medications. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., was a key proponent of that legislation, and praised the lead that Walgreen’s Pharmacy took to set up drug kiosks across the Pacific Northwest last summer.

The six Walgreens kiosks in Oregon go beyond what HB 2645 mandates and accept dietary supplements like vitamins as well as medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “We accept prescriptions, including controlled substances and over-the-counter medications, which would include pet medications and vitamins,” said Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso.

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What's to keep addicts from stealing the kiosks? They seem to have no problems dragging atm's off. Why not a kiosk full of drugs? Sounds like sheer folly and a lot of hype.

Linda Harrison