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Bills to Promote Safe Drug and Needle Disposal Practices Clear Assembly Panel, Require Hospitals to Include Opioid Addiction Information with Discharge Papers

As part of New Jersey’s ongoing, integrated approach to preventing and fighting drug addiction, with a specific emphasis on opioids, two bills were recently cleared by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee.

The first bill (A-3988/A-5010), known as “Charlie’s Law,” would require pharmacy practice sites and hospice programs to provide patients with information and products to safely dispose of unused drugs and medications. The measure, sponsored by Assembly Democrats John Armato, Raj Mukherji, Carol Murphy and Clinton Calabrese would also require patients be given the opportunity to receive, or purchase, a nontoxic composition that could be used to safely dispose of unused, unwanted and expired drugs and medications. The bill is named in honor of “Charlie,” a New Jersey man who battled addiction for several years before ultimately succumbing to the disease at age 34 in 2013.

“The overall premise of this bill is keeping discarded drugs out of the wrong hands,” said Assemblyman Armato (D-Atlantic). “Be it the hands of children or those struggling to avoid temptation, this bill will inform patients on ways to help prevent this from happening.”

The bill calls for pharmacy practice sites, excluding long-term care pharmacies, to give patients written materials containing the following information when dispensing a prescription drug, medication considered a controlled dangerous substance, or any other drug designated by the Commissioner of Health:

· Unused, unwanted, or expired drugs and medications that are not properly, safely, and promptly disposed of risk being stolen, diverted, abused, misused or accidently ingested and such risk pose a threat to the patient and their families, especially children.

· Drugs and medications disposed in household trash or flushed down drains can leak into the ecosystem and harm the environment.

· Patients can receive, or purchase, a nontoxic composition that can be used to permanently sequester or deactivate unused, unwanted, or expired drugs and medications in order to safely dispose them.

“The vicious cycle of addiction can be sparked by the simple act of a child coming into the possession of discarded drugs”, said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “That act can lead to a long, painful road of destruction, which this bill’s safeguards could prevent.”

“This bill also has the wellbeing of our environment in mind,” said Murphy
(D-Burlington). “Improperly disposed of prescription drugs and medications can leak into the ecosystem and potentially harm the environment. This is especially true when they are discarded in household trash or flushed down a drain.”

The noted requirements also would apply to hospice care programs during the time patients are enrolled, or when a change is made to a patient’s prescribed drugs or medications.

The measure also includes a provision whereby the Division of Consumer Affairs would prepare written materials, for distribution to hospice care and pharmacy practice cite patients, explaining ways to safely dispose of used hypodermic syringes and needles to prevent the potential transmission of blood borne pathogens. Such transmission can occur when used hypodermic syringes and needles are reused or result in accidental injury.

“We can’t leave any stone unturned in our fight against drug addiction,” said Calabrese (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Any step we can take to keep unused prescription drugs and medications from those for whom they were not intended is a step in the right direction.”

The bill was introduced last May and awaits further consideration from the Assembly. It would become effective 90 days after enactment.

The second bill (A-4883) would require hospitals to include a warning about the risks of opioid addiction and overdose in a patient’s discharge papers. The measure is sponsored by Assembly Democrats John Armato, Yvonne Lopez and Andrew Zwicker.

As part of the measure, acute care hospitals would be required to provide information concerning the risks of addiction, overdose, and death associated with opioid medications. This information would be included in the patient’s discharge papers, provided that the patient was discharged from the hospital with a prescription for an opioid drug.

“This bill will put safeguards in place to help prevent addiction,” said Armato (D-Atlantic). “It is yet another strategy in our ongoing battle to fight this disease.”

“In many instances, the time period immediately following a surgery is when patients are in the most pain and exposed to increased doses of opioids in an uncontrolled setting,” said Lopez (D-Middlesex). “This bill aims to educate patients at the time when their risk for becoming addicted is higher, because the more pain they experience, the more medication they may take.”

“New Jersey, like many other states, is waging an ongoing battle against opioid abuse,” said Zwicker (D- Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset). “We can win this fight through a comprehensive approach aimed at preventing addiction; through awareness and educational campaigns; helping those already suffering from this addiction with compassion and understanding; and providing resources for the thousands of individuals and families impacted.”

The latter measure was introduced January 15 and now awaits further consideration from the Assembly. It would become effective 60 days after enactment unless the Commissioner of Health took administrative action that would require it to be implemented sooner.