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Recycling California's Drugs

Courtesy Pam Roth

Drugs aren't the first things that come to mind when legislators talk about recycling. At least they weren’t for California state Sen. Joe Simitian. “The notion that we can reuse or recycle prescription drugs was a little counterintuitive,” he says.

Five Stanford medical students proposed allowing counties to permit pharmacies to dispense previously sold, unexpired and unopened medicine to low-income or severely disabled patients. Emiley Chang, ’03, Josemaria Paterno,’02, Michael Mancuso, Sheila Ravi and Joe Peraza developed SB 798 for Simitian’s annual “There Oughta Be a Law” contest, which invites Californians to suggest ideas for new legislation. In the past five years, eight proposals have been signed into law.

“Ultimately, the students convinced me that this was a way low-income patients could benefit from recycled drugs that would otherwise be tossed down the kitchen sink,” says Simitian, MA ’00. The students found that California health facilities dispose of as much as $100 million in prescribed medications annually because patients die or no longer need the drug.

San Mateo County became the first in California to take advantage of the law when it approved a program at the county hospital in late February. Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System also plans to implement a program.

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