Statewide drug take back program clears House

A bill was approved to give every community a safe way to dispose of unused medications.

OLYMPIA — Washington moved a step closer Friday to establishing the nation’s first statewide drug take-back program paid for by the pharmaceutical industry.

In overwhelming fashion, the state House approved a bill to ensure people in every community will have a safe and convenient way to dispose of unused prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Under House Bill 1047, manufacturers of drugs sold in Washington must submit a program to the state Department of Health by July 2019 to provide a collection system that is “safe, secure and convenient” on a year-round basis. It requires a collection site in every population center and, in larger cities, one per 50,000 residents.

As envisioned, the program will be well-promoted and use “readily recognizable receptacles.” The legislation calls for the program to end in 2029 unless reauthorized by the Legislature..

Those companies will decide among themselves how to apportion the costs but the legislation bars them from imposing a surcharge on drug purchases or drop-off fees at collection sites.

For Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, Friday’s decision culminated two years of work to convince colleagues of its value in their communities and to overcome opposition from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA.

“I’m very, very happy,” he said in an interview before the House voted 86-12.

It’s basically the same legislation that failed to get a vote in 2017, he said. But there’s now a greater understanding of the breadth and depth of abuse of prescription drugs and opioids, he said.

“I just think story after story, headline after headline at the national level of this crisis, that more and more of my colleagues decided we have to do something,” he said.

In the floor debate, Peterson read off names of members of his family, and of his friends, who lost their lives in the course of battling drugs. In concluding, he said he hoped “we can just put a dent into this crisis by passing this bill.”

Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said “there’s enough good here” to support the bill, which he did.

He also warned it won’t come without financial pain for consumers. And the impact will be greater if other states follow Washington’s lead, he predicted.

“This bill drive prices up,” he said. “It will make drugs more expensive.”

Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, spoke next, saying it “may be the most important bill we pass this session. I think this bill is going to save lives.”

And Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, said the consequences of the opioid crisis in communities and to families “has to be part of our calculation.”

A PhRMA representative declined to comment by Friday evening.

Medication take-back programs paid for by pharmaceutical companies started in Snohomish and King counties in 2017. Several other counties are taking steps to follow suit.

“We’re delighted to see this pass the House, and we appreciate Rep. Strom Peterson’s leadership on this issue.” said Jeff Ketchel, administrator for the Snohomish Health District, which oversees the countywide program. “To have a consistent system statewide is crucial to preventing drug abuse and misuse.”

In Snohomish County, there have been 37 kiosks installed where drugs can be brought. Locations of the drop boxes are posted online by MED-Project, the company which is collecting the medications.

Under the House bill passed Friday, within 12 months after the statewide program begins, any city or county program must end or be merged into it.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald Twitter: @dospueblos.

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