The state would be able to bill pharmaceutical companies for unused drugs turned in by patients and put the proceeds toward addiction treatment and recovery programs, under a bill now before lawmakers.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Daniel Wolf, told the Joint Committee on Public Health Thursday that his legislation would require a new degree of responsibility and accountability from drug companies as the state grapples with rising rates of overdose and addiction.
"There's no intent, from my perspective, that the pharmaceutical companies are intentionally creating addiction," said Wolf, a Harwich Democrat. "I wouldn't go that far. But I think one of the solutions we haven't talked nearly enough about in this building is what role the pharmaceutical companies can play and should play in preventing and treating the problems that their drugs are really a very important part of creating."
Wolf's bill would expand upon existing drug take-back centers voluntarily set up in some communities, often at police stations, by calling upon the Department of Public Health to establish collection and disposal sites that could be easily accessed from all regions of the state.
The collection points would include technology to identify and catalog each pill before they were destroyed. That information could then be used to prepare an invoice that would be sent to the drug's manufacturer. Money received through the buyback program would be deposited in a dedicated fund for substance abuse services.
"We know that we are falling way short in the ability to pay for these programs, and this would create a revenue stream," Wolf said.
A substance-abuse prevention bill passed by the Senate in October (S 2020) contains a provision similar to Wolf's program, calling for drug manufacturers to operate or participate in a collection and disposal program.
A national trade group representing pharmaceutical companies opposes Wolf's bill, arguing that drug collection sites could potentially create new venues for drug misuse by establishing one public location where pills are aggregated and could be stolen.
"They would be known sites in the community where people could go to access drugs," said Leslie Wood, deputy vice president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. "We don't believe it's secure."
Wood's organization, known as PhRMA, does not object to drug disposal sites run by law enforcement agencies, she said.
In general, Wood said, PhRMA would prefer to see patients throw out unused medications with their regular trash, because they can get rid of them immediately instead of making a special trip or waiting for a dedicated take-back day.
"We don't want patients to hold on to their unused medicines," she said. "We want them to take them as they're prescribed, secure them in your house, know what you have in your house, and when you don't need them anymore dispose of them in your household trash."
Of various proposals raised recently to combat opioid abuse, several have targeted the issue of unwanted medication that could be subject to misuse.
The Senate's opioid bill also includes a measure allowing patients to request that a pharmacist only partially fill a prescription for certain drugs, while a bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker would limit the supply of opioids doctors could initially prescribe a patient.
Elected officials have also voiced support for an initiative led by the Safe Homes Coalition, a California-based nonprofit, encouraging homeowners to safeguard and hide their prescription drugs before welcoming visitors for events like real estate open houses.