Commentary: Statewide drug take-back program can save lives

By Strom Peterson

If you walked into your bathroom right now and opened your medicine cabinet, what would you find?

If you are anything like me, you probably have some over-the-counter cold medicine, leftover pills from last year’s allergy season or maybe an array of vitamins. For many Washingtonians, there is also a mix of expired or unused prescription medications.

Those little orange bottles may not seem like a threat, but in reality, prescription medications are some of the most commonly abused drugs and lead to hundreds of deaths in Washington state each year.

According to the Washington Department of Health, more than 6 million opioid prescriptions were filled in Washington last year. That’s nearly one prescription for every man, woman and child in our state.

Allowing prescription medications to stockpile in our homes only makes it easier for people to access these addictive drugs. This is especially true for teens — like a young man named Sean, from our community.

Sean was a bright, creative and compassionate kid who like so many of his peers experimented with prescription drugs in high school. When Sean was a senior, he began abusing prescription opiates. One of the first signs that something was wrong was an empty prescription bottle found by Sean’s mother. The bottle had once held prescription painkillers from when Sean’s sister broke her arm. Despite attending rehab and having a family who supported him, Sean would relapse and die of an overdose just six weeks shy of his 18th birthday.

Sean’s story sounds all too familiar. It’s a story that is happening in all of our communities. Our state is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, fueled by an abundance of prescription drugs.

As the number of prescriptions has risen, we’ve seen a parallel rise in the number of overdoses and treatment admissions. In Washington, overdoses have surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental injury deaths.

Washington families need a safe, convenient, environmentally responsible way to dispose of unused medication.

That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to set up a secure system of collection and disposal of unused, expired and leftover medication. The Drug Take-Back Act will ensure that year-round drug drop off sites are available statewide.

There are some successful programs being run by local law enforcement and a new program that is almost identical to the Drug Take-Back Act in King County, which added nearly 100 secure take back locations in just a few weeks. But in a state with millions of medicine cabinets, we need this everywhere.

Local governments and law enforcement agencies should not have to shoulder the burden of paying for the collection and disposal of these drugs. Instead, those who have profited most from the overabundance of prescriptions should contribute to the solution. The Drug Take-Back Act will require the pharmaceutical manufacturers who profit from drug sales in Washington state to create take-back programs. Drug companies sell billions of dollars worth of drugs in Washington every year and asking them to share some of the costs is just common sense.

No one piece of legislation will solve the opioid crisis. We need a range of policies and well-funded services to conquer the opioid epidemic.

Statewide availability of drug take-back programs is one step in the right direction. Getting drugs out of our homes and off our streets will help keep our families and our communities safer.

Every pill bottle collected is another opportunity to stop an addiction before it starts. Let’s come together and support the simple idea that we all know a potential Sean who doesn’t deserve to struggle with addiction. Together we can stop senseless overdoses and avoid the heartache that comes with losing a child to drugs.

Sean deserved a life. Together we can help ensure others don’t end up losing theirs.

Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, owns a small business in Edmonds. He serves as vice chair of the Capital Budget and Environment Committees and a member of the Local Government Committee.

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