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Assembly

A demonstration is done at King Kullen in Patchogue, showing how to use the drug take-back dropbox added through the Department of Environmental Conservation’s pilot program that started last year. File photo from Adrianne Esposito

By Desirée Keegan

New York is taking another step toward ridding our community and our homes of dangerous drugs.

The state Assembly passed the Drug Take Back Act June 20 following the Senate’s passage of the bill the night before, which will establish a statewide program to provide free, safe pharmaceutical disposal
for unused or expired medications.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers, rather than the taxpayers, will foot the entire bill for implementing the program. Chain pharmacies will be required to provide free drug take-back sites, while other authorized collectors, like independent pharmacies and local lawenforcement, will have the option to participate.

“This landmark law makes New York a national leader in addressing the opioid crisis and protecting our waters from pharmaceutical pollution,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, applauding state Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D-Middletown). “[They] have stood up for clean water, public health and New York taxpayers over the special interests of the multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry.

This drug take-back legislation is the best in the nation and we believe it will be adopted by other states. The cost to the pharmaceutical industry will be negligible — communities that have passed similar laws estimated a cost of just a couple pennies per prescription.”

This legislation ensures all New Yorkers will have convenient access to safe drug disposal options. Making safe disposal options accessible to the public will reduce what officials described as the harmful
and antiquated practice of flushing unwanted drugs. Drugs that are flushed are polluting waters from the Great Lakes to Long Island Sound, threatening aquatic life, water quality and drinking water.

“A lack of options to safely dispose of unused drugs is contributing to the national drug abuse epidemic that is now the leading cause of injury and death in the U.S., ahead of car accidents,” said Andrew Radin, chair of the New York Product Stewardship Council and recycling director for Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency. “Deaths from drug overdoses and chronic drug abuse in New York state have increased 71 percent between 2010 and 2015.”

More than 2,000 people in New York die annually from opioid overdose, and 70 percent of people that abuse prescription drugs get them from friends and family, according to the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

“The Drug Take Back Act will save lives by stopping prescription drug abuse at its source,” Radin said.

A coalition of environmental, public health and product stewardship organizations praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the state Department of Environmental Conservation for a recently released report, called “The Feasibility of Creating and Implementing a Statewide Pharmaceutical Stewardship Program in New York State,” which called for the disposal program to be funded by the pharmaceutical industry. Cuomo asked for the report when he vetoed what he called a poorly crafted disposal bill that passed the legislature last year.

“Safe drug disposal options will help save lives by getting leftover prescription drugs out of household medicine cabinets, where they are often stockpiled and abused,” Esposito said. “We now look forward to seeing the governor sign this critical bill into law.”

State Sen. John Flanagan. File photo

Lawmakers are stepping up in the fight against synthetic drugs, and one North Shore official said it was a major milestone in a personal initiative to combat abuse.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) joined with Senate Majority Coalition leaders and the Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) to help pass a package of bills that aims to prevent the abuse of deadly synthetic drugs. In a statement, Flanagan said the drugs have become more prevalent across Long Island because their effects are similar to other known hallucinogens or narcotics. But their chemical structures, Flanagan said, are slightly altered, making it more difficult to restrict them.

“The spread of synthetic drugs is affecting every community and will continue to destroy lives unless more preventive action is taken,” Flanagan said. “For five years, I have sponsored legislation that has passed the Senate on numerous occasions so that we can hold criminals accountable for the creation of new and dangerous drugs that evade our current laws. It is past time for the Assembly to join us and help put an end to synthetic drugs today.”

If the Senate bill passes, the state would zero in on the sale of the synthetic drugs known as K2, Alpha-PVP and others similar to them, by creating criminal penalties for possession and sale. The Department of Health would have to maintain an electronic database of known synthetic cannabinoids, listing their compounds, a description of products and their street names, lawmakers said. The legislation would also amend the Controlled Substances Act to add analogous drugs, Flanagan said.

With support from the Senate Majority Coalition and Klein, who heads the Independent Democratic Conference, lawmakers released a report called “The State of Synthetics: A Review of the Synthetic Cannabinoid Drug Problem in New York and Solutions on Ending the Epidemic” earlier this year. The report found that New York taxpayers fronted roughly $22.7 million to respond to what Flanagan called a public health crisis in 2015.

“We must KO K2 from upstate to downstate, and the Senate will send a strong message that synthetic drugs will not be tolerated in our state,” Klein said. “My analog bill will ensure that New York keeps ahead of the chemists’ curve and will ban chemicals that mimic controlled substances as they are tweaked, so the law can no longer be subverted. Now, the Assembly must take action to protect the citizens of New York State.”

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