Fighting opioid epidemic: Drop boxes for unused medications

This drop box in Edmonds is one of three in Snohomish County where consumers can dispose of prescription and over-the-counter medications they no longer use. The program will be expanded. (Snohomish Health District)

This drop box in Edmonds is one of three in Snohomish County where consumers can dispose of prescription and over-the-counter medications they no longer use. The program will be expanded. (Snohomish Health District)

EDMONDS — The first three sites in a countywide program to give people a safe and convenient way to dispose of unused prescription and over-the-counter medications are scheduled to open this week.

The three drop off sites, all in Edmonds, are at the Edmonds Police Department, 250 5th Ave. N; Family Pharmacy, 7315 212th St. SW, and at QFC, 22828 100th Ave. W.

Three to five drop boxes will be added every day with 25 of the kiosks expected to be operating throughout the county by mid-August at pharmacies and police stations, said Heather Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Snohomish Health District.

Drop boxes will be set up in every city, except rural areas, such as Index, which don’t have pharmacies or police stations. Postage paid mailers will be available in those areas as well as for disabled people who can’t get to a drop-off site.

Locations of the drop boxes will be posted online by MED-Project, the company which is collecting the medications. They will be shipped to Heritage Thermal Services in Ohio for disposal.

Snohomish County is the second county in the state to launch a program that requires drug manufacturers to pay for the disposal of medications, and one of only a handful nationally. It’s estimated to cost $570,000 this year. King County began a similar program in January.

The project is not only a convenience for consumers. The goal is to reduce easy access to powerful painkillers and other medications. It also will prevent them from being improperly disposed of by steps such as flushing them down the toilet.

“We’re absolutely in the middle of a public health epidemic with opioids,” said Jeff Ketchel, the health district’s interim administrator.

Snohomish County recorded the state’s second-highest number of fentanyl deaths last year.

Whatever can be done to get prescription painkillers out of the medicine cabinet and safely disposed of means less opportunity for someone to become addicted to opioids, he said.

State Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, introduced a bill to start a statewide medication collection system, similar to the state’s electronic recycling system. The bill didn’t pass during this year’s legislative session, but he said he would try again in 2018.

Public health agencies, law enforcement, and drug counselors “are all realizing this is an important part of the puzzle in dealing with the opioid crisis,” Peterson said.

One of the most common ways for young teens to first try unprescribed opioids is getting them from a medicine cabinet, he said.

“It’s one of the things we as a community can do on the prevention side,” he said.

King County now has 99 sites to dispose of unneeded medications.

“We’ve gotten tremendous response from the public,” said Taylor Watson, program manager for the Secure Medicine Return program.

Pickup schedules at many sites have shifted from once every two weeks to once a week if not more frequently, she said. And more drop off locations continue to be added.

Proper disposal of unused medications also decreases the amount that are thrown into the trash or dumped into the toilet, which ultimately can end up in streams and groundwater.

A study by the National Oceanic and Administration and University of Washington scientists found 81 compounds, including Prozac and the diabetes medication metformin, in wastewater flowing into Puget Sound estuaries.

A take-back program in Snohomish County began in 2010, with drop off sites at local law enforcement agencies. But they typically accepted medications only during business hours Monday through Friday.

A health district employee was deputized to do pick ups and drive them to a disposal site in Spokane or Oregon, a program costing about $80,000 a year.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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