New drop box for drugs placed at courthouse

April 4, 2010 

What has four legs, stands outside District Court and takes any drug offered? It's the new prescription medication drop box.

This is a secure box for the safe disposal of expired or leftover prescriptions, including controlled substances (narcotics). County hazardous waste specialists installed the box, which is just outside the entrance to Building 3 at the main Thurston County courthouse campus at 2000 Lakeridge Drive S.W. in Olympia.

Properly disposing of unused or outdated prescription medications accomplishes a couple of worthy goals. One of the main goals is to keep such drugs out of the hands of abusers. According to a state survey, 3 out of 5 teens said prescription pain killers were easy to obtain from their parents’ medicine cabinets. Proper disposal takes away that threat.

Another goal is to keep medications from polluting the water supply. While it may seem like a safe option to flush old drugs down the toilet, that is not the best way to dispose of them.

Septic systems and sewer treatment plants are not set up to handle drugs, so they wind up in our ground water and surface water.

Group Health Cooperative also sponsors medicine disposal bins at 25 clinics around the state, including the one on Lilly Road in Olympia. The bin is set up near their pharmacy and is open to the public.

The Olympia Group Health bin has been the busiest of all their sites; it collected 16 percent of the total volume of material collected in 2009. This location was twice as busy as the next busiest Group Health bin – which is all the more reason to appreciate that we now have at least one other bin serving Thurston County.

There is one significant difference between the two sites: The Group Health medicine return bin cannot be used to dispose of controlled substances – narcotics such as OxyContin, Ritalin and Vicodin – because the Federal Drug Enforcement

Administration only allows law enforcement to handle those drugs. The new facility outside the Sheriff’s Office at the courthouse overcomes this obstacle and provides a safe, legal means for disposing of all drugs. Also, the Sheriff’s Office already has to dispose of illegal drugs that are confiscated when they make a drug bust.

The costs for the new disposal bin now are borne by the Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Ecology and Thurston County. In the future, the hope is that a product stewardship system can be established so that costs are shared by the manufacturers, which would make it possible to offer safe and convenient medicine disposal services in more locations.

At a time when drug overdoses have surpassed car wrecks as the leading cause of accidental deaths in Washington state, safe disposal of controlled substances via secure drop boxes is an important way to keep such drugs out of the hands of abusers.

For more information, see and look under “Medications.”

Dr. Diana T. Yu is the Health Officer for Thurston and Mason counties. She can be reached at 360-867-2501 or

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