Long battle for state drug take-back program must continue

March 13, 2011 

State senators dropped the ball when they failed by a single vote last week to approve legislation to launch a statewide medicine take-back program funded by the pharmaceutical companies.

The drug industry mounted a successful lobbying campaign to keep the state from becoming the first to approve a system that would do a better job of keeping unused prescription and over the counter drugs from being misused and abused.

A broad coalition of law enforcement agencies, local governments, health care professionals, environmental groups and substance abuse prevention networks vowed to continue their work to refine and promote legislation that would provide safe disposal of unused drugs, estimated at 10 percent to 30 percent of all drugs prescribed or sold over the counter.

“We’re not going away,” said Margaret Shields, a King County hazardous waste program manager who has lobbied for the bill the past three years. “It’s an important public-safety and environmental issue.”

Far too many youth are experimenting with dangerous drugs they find in unsecured medicine cabinets or obtain from other people’s prescriptions.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled prescription drug abuse an epidemic in a nation where 57 percent of all new prescription drug abusers are younger than 18.

According to the state Department of Health, drug overdoses have surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental deaths, and nearly one-third of all child poisoning deaths in the state in 2006 were caused by someone else’s prescription drugs.

It’s estimated that a drug take-back program operated and financed by the pharmaceutical companies in this state would cost about two cents per container of medicine sold each year. That’s a small price to pay for a $4 billion per year industry.

A well-run medicine take-back program, including safe disposal at a hazardous waste incinerator, makes more sense than flushing unwanted drugs down the toilet or crushing them and mixing them with kitty litter or coffee grounds that are then discarded in the trash. Those are both pathways for chemicals to eventually end up in the environment.

Thurston County is fortunate to have seven locations that accept unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs from consumers free of charge.

With very little publicity, those sites collected more than 2,000 pounds of discarded drugs in 2010.

The demand for a medicine take-back program is real. It stands to reason that drug manufacturers should take responsibility for their products from the cradle to the grave. Drugs are no exception to this product stewardship ethic that’s proven to work for other products, including electronics.

The battle against drug abuse also needs to include a strong public education component. Parents and educators need to reinforce the message that prescription drugs can be just as addictive and dangerous as street drugs.

Parents and other family members need to do their part, too, in ensuring that their prescription and over-the-counter drugs are stored in safe, secure places in the home, out of the reach of young children and teens.

The day will come when state or federally regulated medicine take-back programs – funded by the drug companies – will be here to stay. In the meantime, consumers can show the value of such a program by supporting Thurston County’s volunteer take-back program.

The following offer drop-off boxes for unused drugs:

 • Lacey Police Department, 420 College St. S.E., seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

 • Rainier City Hall, 102 Rochester St. W., 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday.

 • Tenino Police Department, 358 McClellan St. S., 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Friday.

 • Tumwater Police Department, 555 Israel Road, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday.

 • Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, 2000 Lakeridge Drie S.W., Building 3, Olympia, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.

 • Yelm Police Department, 206 Mckenzie Ave. S.E., 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday, except holidays.

 • Group Health, 700 Lilly Road, Olympia, 9:15 a.m.- 5:45 p.m., Monday-Friday. (Note: controlled substances are not accepted at Group Health.)

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