Rx drug disposal bill faces deadline on Senate floor

JOHN DODGE; Staff writer

A bill to create a statewide program for safe disposal of unused prescription and over-the-counter medicines faces a showdown on the Senate floor.

Supporters of Senate Bill 5234, including local governments, law enforcement, medical associations and environmental groups, say a secure drug take-back program is needed to stem drug abuse by young people and keep drugs out of community water systems.

About $4 billion is spent on drugs in the state each year, and about 30 percent of them go unused, leading to drug abuse and drug overdoses, noted Margaret Shields, a hazardous waste program manager in King County.

Health officials point out that misuse of potent prescription drugs, including painkillers, is on the rise. The number of youths admitted to state-funded treatment for prescription opiates is 19 times higher than it was in 2002, and drug overdoses have surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death for young people in the state.

The take-back program would be financed by the drug companies, making it a product stewardship program similar to ones run in this state for electronic waste and mercury.

“It’s a small cost – no more than $2.5 million a year – but the drug companies don’t want to pay for it,” Shields said.

The pharmaceutical companies have staged a determined fight to keep this state from becoming the first with a statewide medicine take-back program.

The best way to get unwanted drugs out of the house in a secure, safe way is to put them in the household trash in a plastic bag with some undesirable product such as coffee grounds or kitty litter, said Leslie Wood, senior director of state advocacy for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Here’s another concern voiced by the drug industry: “Collected medicine could pass through many hands, leading to misuse,” Wood said.

“There’s no evidence anywhere of that happening,” Shields said of the take-back programs operating in 13 counties in the state, in other states or other countries. “The bill has a number of security requirements built into it.”

Thurston County has seven temporary drop boxes, including one outside the Sheriff’s Office at the county courthouse. They collected more than 2,100 pounds of unwanted drugs in 2010.

“I’m not aware of any problems at these collection sites,” Sheriff John Snaza said. The sheriff said he supports the legislation, adding that the $6,000 his department has spent on the program could be used for training sheriff’s deputies or for other direct law enforcement projects.

The bill, which must pass the Senate by Monday to stay alive, would create the Medicine Return Corp., a nonprofit group, to finance and operate the program. The board of directors would consist of four state legislators and producers of drugs sold in this state. The corporation would solicit law enforcement agencies, pharmacies and hospitals to collect the drugs.

Vitamins, supplements and pet-pest treatment products are exempt under the bill.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 [email protected]