Health district’s drug take-back program to start in the spring

EVERETT — Almost every home has them stuffed away in drawers: Bottles of partially used cough medicine, antihistamines left over from colds and vials of half-used prescription medications, such as pain pills, steroids, and other powerful medications.

Starting next year, safely disposing of over-the-counter and prescription medications should be far easier. The first of up to 175 disposal sites are expected to open in Snohomish County in the spring. They will be located at places such as pharmacies and hospitals.

The drug take-back program was unanimously approved by the Snohomish Health District’s governing board on Tuesday.

Snohomish County joins King County as the second community in the state to approve a drug take-back program. Similar programs exist in California’s Alameda County and in British Columbia, said Jefferson Ketchel, the health district’s environmental health director.

During a public hearing on the take-back plan, Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary urged board members to support it. “We know from Healthy Youth Surveys that many of the ways people are becoming opioid addicts is through our medicine cabinets,” he said.

Currently, there’s few good ways to dispose of unneeded medications, said Heather Thomas, health district spokeswoman. About a third of the medications sold to the public go unused. Throwing them away in the trash is banned under solid waste regulations, she said.

“Flushing them down the toilet isn’t good either,” Thomas said. “Even our most sophisticated waste water treatment facility can’t strip out pharmaceuticals when treating the water. Some of those go back into lakes, waterways, streams and ultimately back into our drinking water.”

The disposal problem isn’t just limited to prescribed medications. Over-the-counter medicines, such as antihistamines, ibuprofen and Tylenol are among the top 10 causes of poisonings in Washington homes, especially for children, according to the Washington Poison Center.

The plan is for producers of medicines and prescription drugs to pay for the disposal program, an estimated $570,000 cost, Ketchel said. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a national advocacy group, sent two letters to the health district objecting to the proposal.

If the manufacturers pass costs directly to consumers, it likely would add a couple of cents to the cost of a prescription, Ketchel said.

The county has had a drug take-back program since 2010. So far that’s captured 34,000 pounds of unwanted medications, with 26 drop-off locations at police stations.

That program is at capacity, Ketchel said. “The evidence rooms at the police departments can’t handle it.”

Karen Bowman, an occupational and environmental health specialist with the Washington State Nurses Association, questioned the practice of simply flushing away unused medications. “We can’t use this antiquated system of dumping medications down the toilet,” she said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486;

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