This is the second of five blog posts I'll make today regarding the 15 bills I've prime-sponsored that have passed out of committee. A few of them have already passed the Senate; others are lined up for a possible vote on the Senate floor.
Senate Bill 5234 would protect people and the environment by creating a medicine stewardship program to gather and dispose of unused prescription medication. This is the fourth year I’ve been pushing the Medicine Stewardship legislation. It will require pharmaceutical manufacturers, who profit handsomely from Washington's $4.2 billion annual prescription and over-the-counter drug purchases, to design and fund a process to take the unused medications back and dispose of them in a safe and environmentally sound manner. Washingtonians would be able to drop off their unused medications at their local pharmacies, into a secure locked box. The medications would be taken to a hazardous material incinerator to be burned at high enough heat to “unwind” the molecular structure of every drug and emitted as harmless ash.
The idea for the legislation was originally suggested to me several years ago by environmentalists, who noted that unused medications are often thrown into the garbage and end up in landfills or are flushed down toilets and into municipal wastewater treatment plants, then into rivers or Puget Sound.
After I started working on this legislation, it quickly became apparent that public health officials, police officers, and people working against drug abuse in our communities were extremely supportive. They know that unused medications accumulate over years in people’s medicine cabinets. About one-third of all medicines sold annually in Washington - 33 million containers of pills – go unused. Some get flushed down the toilet, but many more sit unused in medicine cabinets.
Unused medications are a major contributing factor in Washington’s epidemic of prescription drug abuse. All too often, they find their way into the high school drug trade or are accidently ingested by children in the house. Law enforcement personnel and public health officials told me story after story about kids getting high or overdosing on their parent’s prescription medication, or selling and trading them at school. Adults also misuse and sell prescription medications, and they have become a large part of our state’s criminal drug trade.
Some of the most compelling testimony supporting this legislation comes from parents and grandparents of children who died from overdoses on prescription medication. In our state, drug overdose is the most common cause of accidental death, superseding car accidents and causing an average of two deaths per day. Prescription medications are the cause of the majority of these overdoses.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (Pharma) is very displeased about this bill. They are interested in selling drugs, not taking them back, and have marshaled their considerable resources to lobby against it. Right now, they have at least two full-time lobbyists working against us. Pharma doesn’t like the notion that those who put a product into the marketplace and profit from it owe the public some obligation of stewardship over it. They may also want to avoid shedding light on the fact that about one-third of all prescription medication goes unused, because it may cause people to examine the possibility that maybe those drugs were overprescribed.
A few years back, we took the electronics manufacturers down this path; the presence of mercury in many of their products required that they oversee responsible disposal of dead computers. We were aided by conscientious users and buyers of computer electronics, who pressured the industry until its leaders—a politically savvy bunch—finally heard their customers.
Big Pharma isn’t there yet. The legislation puts an annual $2.5 million cap on the cost of the program, but based on the experience of a similar program in Vancouver, B.C., we estimate that the annual costs will be closer to $500,000. Surely, they’ve spent at least that much lobbying against this kind of legislation. In 2010, the B.C. program safely disposed of more than 66 tons of hazardous unused medicines. The price tag was just $468,000 (U.S.).
Currently, several counties have sporadic one-day collections in place, which have resulted in more than more than 160,000 pounds of leftover drugs returned and safely destroyed since 2006. Still, large parts of our state have no way at all to dispose of prescription medication. And financially-strapped law enforcement agencies should not have to cover the costs of gathering and disposing of products made by a highly profitable industry. It’s estimated that the pharmaceutical industry would spend less than one cent for every $16 they make on the sale of prescription medication. SB 5234 would create the only secure and environmentally sound way to dispose of leftover or expired drugs that contribute to the epidemic of drug abuse and accidental poisonings.
After several years of determined work, I think our team is finally in a position to win one against Big Pharma.
Senate Bill 6213 would protect the privacy of domestic partners who register with the Secretary of State’s Address Confidentiality Program. This bill was requested by our Secretary of State. It would allow people who are registered as domestic partners through the Secretary of State’s office to request that their names and addresses be kept confidential if a public request is made for the information. There are roughly 4,000 people currently registered in the Secretary of State’s address confidentiality program. Many of these people are survivors of domestic violence, and don’t want their current address disclosed. Our state’s domestic partnership law currently doesn’t allow the Secretary of State’s office to withhold this information regarding domestic partners; this bill would change that.
Senate Bill 6252 is one of a package of legislation this year aimed at eradicating sex and labor trafficking in our state, especially the sexual exploitation of minors.
In this bill, we aim at pimps who victimize minors: a person is guilty of “commercial sexual abuse of a minor” if he or she knowingly advances commercial sexual abuse of a minor or profits from a minor engaged in sexual conduct. This legislation would revise the definition of "criminal profiteering," to include this conduct.
Our state’s Criminal Profiteering Act provides civil penalties and remedies for a variety of criminal activities. Profiteering is defined to include the commission, or attempted commission, for financial gain, of any one of a number of crimes, including child selling or buying, sexual exploitation of children, and promoting prostitution. The act provides that a pattern of criminal profiteering activity means engaging in at least three acts of criminal profiteering within a five-year period. An injured person, the Attorney General, or the county prosecuting attorney may file an action to prevent or restrain a pattern of criminal profiteering and recover up to three times actual damages as well as the costs of suit. A civil penalty of up to $200,000 may also be awarded.
A 2008 Seattle Human Services Department report estimated that there are 300 to 500 children being exploited for sex in the Seattle area alone each year. We need to make traffickers and exploiters pay for their acts. The damages awarded will be dedicated to a fund to pay for the treatment victims often need. We need all the tools we can find to help us eradicate this problem.