Snohomish Health District considers drug take-back plan

The Snohomish Health District is considering a plan to require pharmaceutical companies to pay for the safe disposal of unused over-the-counter and prescription medications beginning next year.

Now the public gets its chance to say what they think of it.

“It’s critical to get public feedback,” said Jeff Ketchel, environmental health director at the Snohomish Health District.

The proposed ordinance “would put the burden on the manufacturer to be responsible for their products by operating in their own way a medicine return system,” he said.

Information on the proposal is available on the health district’s website. Opinions on the proposal can be sent to the public health agency by email, letters or through an online survey. The comment period ends April 15. The health district board could vote on the proposal in June.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a national advocacy group, has announced its opposition to instituting a countywide drug take-back program. The group sent a letter dated March 14 to Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, signed by Kim Martin, senior director for state advocacy.

The group opposes mandates on prescription drug manufacturers “to create, implement and fund a drug take-back program,” the letter says. “This proposal is unnecessary, unlikely to solve any perceived public health issue, and will likely never be implemented as envisioned,” it says.

A take-back program has existed in Snohomish County since 2010, disposing of 34,000 pounds of unwanted medications. “We feel that’s just scratching the surface,” Ketchel said.

Consumers can drop off narcotic pain pills and stimulants such as Ritalin at 26 locations, such as Snohomish County Sheriff’s offices and local police stations, but typically only during business hours Monday through Friday.

Brian Sullivan, a Snohomish County Council member who also serves on the health district board, estimates there are tens of thousands of pounds of medications bought locally each year.

About a third of the medications sold to the public go unused. People often flush them down the toilet or toss them into the garbage. That can lead to the medications leaking into water systems, Sullivan said.

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

The health district’s goal is make it easier for consumers to dispose of unwanted medications. The plan calls for having drop boxes in every city with a pharmacy and an additional drop box for every 30,000 people in cities and unincorporated areas.

The current disposal program is run in collaboration with the Snohomish County Drug and Gang Task Force. A health district employee is deputized by the county to pick up the medications from each disposal bin. They’re taken to an approved incineration facility in Spokane or Oregon. Those trips are made two to three times a year. The program costs the health district about $80,000 a year.

“Both the sheriff’s office and the health district lack the funding to expand, much less to continue the program because of budget challenges,” Ketchel said.

The drug take-back program would be similar to the state’s electronics recycling program. A charge is added in the sale of electric devices to pay for recycling and safe disposal.

If approved, Snohomish County would join a handful of counties nationally that have adopted or are considering similar drug take-back plans. The closest program, in King County, is expected to launch in mid-June, the first such program in the state.

The goal is to have 125 collection sites in King County by year’s end. The cost to consumers is estimated at 1-to-2 cents per prescription, according to Taylor Watson, a manager for the secure medicine return program at Public Health — Seattle &King County.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486;

A survey and information on the Snohomish Health district’s proposed drug take-back program is posted online at: Comments also may be mailed to the Snohomish Health District, Attn: Pharmaceutical Stewardship Comments, 3020 Rucker Ave, Ste 306, Everett, Wa. 98201 through April 15.

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