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Atlanta Journal-Constitution Examines Debate Over Drug Recycling Programs, Georgia's "Underground Network" for HIV Patients

December 16, 2005

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday examined the renewed debate over nationwide drug recycling programs and how "with the cost of pharmaceuticals rising, more people are paying attention to the destruction" of unused prescription drugs. According to the Journal-Constitution, the disposal of unused drugs "occurs with numbing frequency" at hospices and long-term care facilities and in homes across the country, and the "amount of drugs wasted" is "potentially enormous." Some states have launched, "with varying degrees of success," programs to recycle prescription drugs still packaged in single-dose containers and properly marked with expiration dates, and other states give the medication to pharmacies in clinics that treat uninsured patients, the Journal-Constitution reports. Although a provision in the Georgia State Board of Pharmacy's regulations allows the return of some medications from nursing homes, state laws prohibit most drug recycling. However, HIV-positive people have built an underground network for recycling unused drugs, according to the state advocacy group AIDS Survival Project, the Journal-Constitution reports. "It helps people get access to medication who cannot afford them or get government assistance for them," Jeff Graham, senior director of advocacy for ASP, said, adding that antiretroviral drugs on average cost $12,000 annually per patient. Graham said he knows the process is illegal, adding, "It's a sign of the desperate measures people will go to, to get prescription medications." The Georgia Pharmacy Association said it has concerns about setting up a formal statewide drug recycling program. "We understand the economic impact and that it would help people, but we're concerned about the liability and about the danger to the patient," Buddy Harden, executive vice president of the association, said. FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Drug Enforcement Administration currently are discussing alternatives to discarding unused pharmaceuticals (Miller, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/15).

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