Broad Coalition Calls for Statewide Drug Take-back Program

Illinois legislators and advocates introduce The Illinois Drug Take-back Act

CHICAGO – Today, state lawmakers, environmental and public health groups, along with business, public safety and local government voices, called for a statewide pharmaceutical drug take-back program funded by pharmaceutical companies. The coalition called the amount of  unused drugs in Illinois a public safety, public health and environmental crisis and urged the passage of The Illinois Drug Take-back Act, HB4888, at a press conference in Chicago.

“Today we are introducing legislation that protects public health by keeping drugs out of the hands of our children and our waterways,” said Representative Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, Chief Sponsor of the bill. “Drug take-back collection programs provide communities with a simple, safe and effective way to dispose of their leftover medicines.”

Storing unused or expired medicines can lead to accidental  poisoning, drug abuse, and even drug trafficking. More people start down the path of addiction through the misuse of opioid prescription drugs than any other substance. In Illinois, prescription pain medication overdose deaths doubled between 2013 and 2016, with 1,896 deaths in 2019 alone.

“Many people mistakenly think that the safe and responsible way to dispose of unused and unwanted medicines is to flush them down the toilet,” said Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Debra Shore. “Unfortunately, flushing pharmaceuticals is neither safe nor responsible. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove pharmaceutical pollution from water, so much of what’s flushed down the toilet will end up in our rivers and streams – and ultimately in our drinking water.”

The Illinois Drug Take-back Program will significantly expand the number of safe, secure collection sites for the public to dispose of their pharmaceutical medications throughout Illinois, ensuring that every resident has convenient access to a drop-off location.

“In too many U.S. homes there is a very lethal threat in the form of unused opioids and other prescription medications. The presence of these powerful drugs in our homes have led to thousands of overdose deaths and many, many people to begin an agonizing descent into the living hell of addiction,” said Dr. John Roberts, president of the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization. “I am confident that many innocent lives will be saved by the proposed drug take-back bill.”

“Over the last five years we have run numerous prescription drug take-back events, resulting in over 60,000 pounds of drugs being surrendered,” said Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg.  “While these take-back programs are invaluable, it does come at a major financial expense to law-enforcement. I fully support continuing and expanding drug take-back programs, while shifting the cost of the programs to the drug manufacturers instead of being funded solely by the taxpayer.”

This legislation holds manufacturers responsible for the products they make, providing a sustainable funding source for the new collection program. Retailers, counties, law enforcement agencies and other entities already providing this service will be reimbursed.

“Over the past few years, Illinois retailers have created one of the most robust drug take-back infrastructures in the nation, successfully keeping tens of millions of pounds of pharmaceuticals off our streets and out of our waterways and landfills,” said Rob Karr, president and CEO of Illinois Retail Merchants Association. “We look forward to continued partnership with the environmental community, manufacturers, solid waste agencies, municipalities and law enforcement agencies to provide residents across Illinois with safe and convenient options to properly dispose of pharmaceuticals.”  

Research has shown that pharmaceuticals—including prescription drugs—are present in our nation’s waterways and may cause environmental harm. Without safe collection programs like the one established in the proposed legislation, these drugs end up contaminating our streams, rivers and drinking water.

“Humans and wildlife need drinking water free from harmful chemicals, and decision-makers must improve access to this basic need for all Illinoisans,” said Colleen Smith, legislative director at the Illinois Environmental Council. “This take-back program is a common sense approach to minimize the presence of pharmaceuticals in drinking-water and reduce human and wildlife exposure.”

The Illinois Drug Take-back Act was introduced today before the 101st General Assembly and will be debated by lawmakers during the coming months. 

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