[Editor’s note: This column is about LD 821, “An Act To Support Collection and Proper Disposal of Unwanted Drugs,” a bill currently under consideration in the Maine Legislature.]

Maine lawmakers are debating a bill that would require pharmaceutical companies to retrieve unused prescription drugs from households across the state. The measure is designed to prevent those medicines from ending up in Maine’s water supply.

Protecting Maine’s drinking water is of paramount importance. But the bill won’t make Maine’s water any cleaner. And it could raise the price of medicines and stifle biopharmaceutical research.

For starters, more than 90 percent of the drugs that find their way into tap water come from the waste products of those who have ingested their medicines correctly — not from folks improperly flushing their meds down the toilet. So this “take back” program would do nothing to prevent the main source of pharmaceutical chemicals in water.

Moreover, the safest and most effective way to dispose of drugs is to toss them in the household trash, in sealed plastic bags to keep them away from children and pets. That waste is eventually held in secure landfills, preventing any chemicals from leaking into surface waters.

A secondary function of the bill, according to its supporters, is to get pharmaceuticals out of the hands of those who might abuse them. But any legislation that takes the issue of drug abuse seriously must provide communities with the resources to educate their citizens about the dangers of prescription drugs. This bill does not.

Even if the Maine Legislature went back to the drawing board and attempted to design a bill that actually improved resident health, lawmakers would still be hard-pressed to create effective regulations. That’s because water quality, by its very nature, isn’t a state issue — it’s a national issue.

The Mississippi River Watershed runs through 31 states. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed serves 17 million people in seven states plus the District of Columbia. There’s no doubt that water safety deserves serious attention from the government. And Maine lawmakers should do their best to ensure that the local water supply remains free of pollutants. But this bill would be ineffective at the state level.

The problems with this bill go beyond its inefficacy. It could actually jeopardize the health care of patients across the country.

Creating the complex and expansive network required to regularly collect unused drugs from resident homes would be a very costly enterprise. Consequently, this bill would dramatically drive up the operating costs for medical research firms, leaving less money for scientists to develop new drugs. That’s particularly bad news for those suffering from conditions like cancer and Parkinson’s, whose lives depend on future medical innovation.

What’s more, drug makers will likely try to recoup dollars lost on recovery programs by raising prices on their products. So folks would see higher pharmacy bills at a time of great economic instability.

Maine lawmakers have crafted a bill that fails to address the important issues of water purity and prescription drug abuse, and actually harms people’s health care. They can do better.

Peter J. Pitts is president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, based in New York, and is also a former FDA associate commissioner.