April 26, 2013

Rx students to fight waste by tabulating unused drugs

More than 100 UNE pharmacy students have volunteered to catalog prescription drugs that will be collected Saturday in Belfast, Saco and Scarborough.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

When Mainers turn over thousands of pounds of unwanted prescription drugs on Saturday, a small army of University of New England pharmacy students will be at several of the drop-off locations to count every type of medication to determine which ones are wasted most often.

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Saturday’s take-back event will take place from 10 am to 2 p.m. at various locations throughout Maine, including:

Biddeford: Public Works Recycling Center, 371 Hill Street

Saco: Community Center, Franklin Street

Old Orchard Beach: New Police Station, 16 East Emerson Cummings Boulevard

Lyman: Goodwin Mills Fire Station

Kennebunk: Hannaford Supermarket, 65 Portland Road

Kennebunkport: Police Station, Route 9 (across from the American Legion)

Buxton: Rite-Aid Pharmacy, 226 Parker Farm Road

Buxton: Hannaford Supermarket & Pharmacy, 24 Portland Road

Disposal is free and anonymous. Officials ask that personal identification information (name, address) be removed from labels. Prescription and over-the-counter pills, drops, ointments, et cetera will be accepted. However, no thermometers, batteries, durable medical equipment or intravenous solutions, injectables or syringes can be accepted.

"If you can look at the percentage of waste, then you start asking why," said Heather Stewart, who is earning her doctor of pharmacy degree at UNE. The answers, she said, could lead to medical practices that reduce waste and save money.

Stewart's research, however, could be in jeopardy, because of a loss of funding and a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration rule that's under consideration.

The rule is aimed at protecting the drug take-back program by ensuring that only law enforcement officers are allowed to handle the drugs after they are dropped off. That's because some are highly sought after by addicts.

The rule would effectively shut down efforts to gather data on drugs collected in take-back programs in Maine and the nine other states where such analysis is being done.

The collection program also will be threatened if the DEA decides to cut funding for safe disposal of the drugs.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, sent a letter to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart on Feb. 7, arguing that such data collection is important for developing policies to reduce the costly waste of prescription drugs.

There have been no drug diversions in Maine during the data collection process, she said, and the DEA should reconsider the policy.

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a leading industry group, has said it supports local collectors gathering information on the medications recovered in take-back programs to help reduce waste in prescribing practices.

The rules for the drug take-back program are still being formulated by the DEA so it's not clear what they will say or when they might take effect.

Stewart's research of drugs collected at several sites in 2011 and 2012 has shown that in Maine, the largest single class of drugs being disposed of are cardiovascular medicines for conditions like high blood pressure and clogged arteries.

Of the 375,674 doses -- primarily pills -- counted from three take-back events, 11 percent fell into that category.

The analysis also showed that those medications have one of the highest levels of waste. On average, more than 79 percent of the amounts prescribed were left over. That means, for example, that a 30-pill prescription comes back with 24 pills remaining.

Similarly, more than 80 percent of prescriptions for gastrointestinal, antidepressant and asthma medications were left over.

"Now that we have an actual concrete number of what's coming back, we can start figuring out how to change it," Stewart said.

Surveys indicate that:

27 percent of the unwanted medications were discarded because doctors told patients to stop taking them;

Almost 20 percent belonged to people who had died;

18 percent were discarded because the person no longer needed them;

12 percent were discarded because users had negative reactions.

Stewart has presented her data to state boards and groups that are studying prescription drug diversion in Maine.

With less waste, less medication would be flushed down drains, and insurance companies and MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program, would save money.

In her letter to the DEA, Collins said earlier data from the state's mail-in drug collection effort, which no longer exists, led to changes in MaineCare's prescription drug coverage that reduced the number of doses when a person first tried a medicine. That way, if the drug didn't work, lesswas wasted.

(Continued on page 2)

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