By Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Product Stewardship Institute
This week an announcement rocked the pharmaceutical take-back community. Walgreens will set up collection kiosks at 500 stores in 39 states to accept controlled and non-controlled prescription drugs.
In one instant, a decade of advocacy work was rewarded as a principal player stepped forward to help alleviate drug abuse and accidental poisonings in America. In this one move, Walgreens validated those of us who have long promoted take-back as the safest way to manage leftover drugs and remove a health risk from our homes.
It was a long road to this point. It all started for a reason we should not forget – concern over how pharmaceuticals impact water quality and aquatic organisms. The U.S. Geological Survey brought our attention to this issue in 2002 by reporting the prevalence of pharmaceutical compounds in waterways. Studies and photos of aquatic impacts – male fish with female characteristics, infertility in aquatic species, and related environmental concerns – incited our interest in finding a solution.
But it quickly became clear that the nation’s drug abuse issue would drive a solution. When King Pharmaceuticals, an opioid manufacturer, funded PSI’s pharmaceuticals take-back website, along with one of our 2008 national dialogue meetings, we knew we were on the right track. At that meeting, we reached stakeholder consensus: the federal Controlled Substances Act needed to be changed. This law limited the collection of controlled substances to locations where law enforcement staff were present – a costly, impractical, and inconvenient constraint.
In order to change the law, we needed to reach a strong agreement among government agencies, reverse distributors, and other stakeholders on two specific points: how we defined the problem and what specific language we recommended to change the law. We met with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Department of Transportation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration to solidify a unified message, and wrote testimony that synthesized concerns and recommendations. In 2010, the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act was enacted.
But that was only the first step. From there, PSI held multiple stakeholder calls and meetings to provide input into implementing the DEA regulations that would eventually put the new law into action. When DEA finally released its final rule in late 2014, some stakeholders remained skeptical. They questioned whether the rule went far enough, if it created unintended loopholes, and why pharmacies didn’t jump in to start collecting soon after the rule was announced. PSI, therefore, set out to find pioneering pharmacists who were collecting controlled substances under the new rule, like Monty Scheele of Four Star Drug in Nebraska, who enthusiastically explained on one of our national webinars how easy it is to collect old drugs and how beneficial it is for business.
Obviously, Walgreens was listening to pharmacists like Monty Scheele. They responded to the drum beat of requests from an ever-expanding group of take-back advocates, as well as ONDCP and DEA, who made it clear that pharmacy collection was a main goal all along when they changed the regulations.
A decade ago, King County, Washington started an epic pilot program for non-controlled substances at Bartell Drugs, a pharmacy in Seattle. Dave Galvin, one of the County’s pilot program leaders, always said: “Most people don’t go to their police station voluntarily, but they do go to the neighborhood pharmacy.”
It’s been a long journey, one that took perseverance and hope. But simple truths are hard to keep submerged. Customers are neighbors, and they will stay loyal to your pharmacy if you help alleviate a pressing community problem.
It was only a matter of time until a major initiative like this one was bound to occur. A decade isn’t so long, after all.