Snohomish Health District expands medicine take-back program

EVERETT — A countywide program to help consumers easily dispose of unused over-the-counter and prescription medicine is expected to begin in the spring.

The take-back program, approved by the Snohomish Health District board in June, calls for up to 175 disposal sites to be established in the county. A disposal box is planned in every town as well as at pharmacies, hospitals, clinics and police stations.

“We’re proud that we’re the second in the state and the eighth in the nation to pass such a law,” said Heather Thomas, a health district spokeswoman.

Final plans for the project are still being worked out with MED-Project. The company has submitted a proposal to the health district for organizing the program, as well as picking up and properly disposing of unused medications.

“I’m hoping the contract will be approved by the end of January and this program will be implemented by April,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.

Med-Project also is organizing a medicine take back program in King County, which is expected to launch later this month. “They have the experience and know what it takes,” said Jeff Ketchel, the health district’s environmental health director.

The program in Snohomish County is designed to be as convenient for consumers as possible. Mail-back services will be available for home-bound and disabled patients.

MED-Project has three months to implement the program once its plan receives final approval from the health district.

The county has had a limited drug take-back program since 2010, with 26 drop-off locations at police stations. But they’re typically only available during weekday business hours. So it’s only capturing a fraction of unused or expired medications.

Some 2,080 pounds of medicine have been collected this year, said Angela Peterson, an environmental health specialist for the Snohomish Health district.

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.

A health district employee has been deputized by the county to pick up the medications from each disposal bin. The medications are taken to approved incineration facilities in Spokane or Oregon. Those trips were made two to three times a year. The program cost the health district about $80,000 a year.

Consumers had few other options for disposing of unused powerful medications, such as pain pills or steroids.

An estimated one-third of the medications sold to the public go unused. Throwing them in the trash is not allowed under solid waste regulations, Thomas said. Flushing them down the toilet can lead to medications ending up in rivers and groundwater.

Unused over-the-counter medicines left in drawers around the home can be a danger to children. Nonprescription medicines, such antihistamines, ibuprofen and Tylenol, are among the top 10 causes of poisonings in Washington homes, especially for children, according to the Washington Poison Center.

Medicine disposal programs also have been shown to be a tool in preventing the abuse of powerful drugs such as pain medications, Thomas said.

“If opioids are readily available in the home, it increases the chance for them to be abused,” Thomas said. “So taking them as prescribed and disposing of them when they’re no longer needed is important.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486;

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