Assembly committee passes legislation to help limit access to prescription meds

TRENTON, NJ — In an effort to protect the environment and reduce unsafe access to prescription drugs, Assembly Democrats Raj Mukherji, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, John Armato and Robert Karabinchak have sponsored legislation to require pharmacies to educate customers and offer methods for them to properly dispose of their medicine. The bill passed the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee on Dec. 5.

Bill A-5667 would require pharmaceutical sites that dispense prescription medicines to provide patients with information about the potential risks of improperly discarding unused pills and syringes. One of those risks includes making it easier for someone to steal the medication from the trash for their own personal use or resale.

The legislation is named “Charlie’s Law” in memory of Charlie Van Tassel, a young athlete who struggled with addiction for many years before dying at age 33. 

“Many don’t realize the danger their medicine can pose to others if they fail to safely dispose of it,” Mukherji said. “If someone else accesses a prescription drug without a legitimate need, the medication could be harmful to health or worsen an ongoing addiction. The intent of this bill is to help reduce the chances of promising young New Jerseyans like Charlie Van Tassel, Benjamin Tofik Farah or Nick Rohdes developing a substance abuse disorder or accessing dangerous drugs.”

Sometimes the misuse of a medication is accidental, when children find expired or unused pills that were never removed from a residence. Each year, thousands of American children accidentally ingest opioid drugs.

“As a parent, we would never knowingly put our children in harm’s way. Leaving old medicine around the house can put them at risk,” Vainieri Huttle said. “It’s important for patients to be educated on how to safely handle their unused prescriptions to prevent tragic accidents from taking place.”

Even wildlife can be damaged as a result of chemicals leaking into the ecosystem after medications are thrown in the garbage or flushed down the toilet. As such, the bill further stipulates that pharmacies must make at least one safe method of disposal available to their customers.

“If consumers know the dangers of improperly discarded medicine but are not offered an alternative method to safely dispose of it, the problem will remain,” Armato said. “Both education and resources must be provided to patients in order for us to combat this standard yet detrimental practice.”

Some of the methods pharmacies can offer include over-the-counter at-home solutions that alter the chemical or physical makeup of the drug, and secured medication collection kiosks where customers could drop off their unused prescriptions.

“At a time when our country is going through a severe opioid crisis, it’s important to prevent drug abuse in whatever way we can,” Karabinchak said. “This legislation will help keep our communities healthy and safe by raising awareness of this issue and providing impactful measures to address it.”

The bill will now go to the Assembly speaker for further review.

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