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Many see need for drug take-back program

Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick - Courtesy Photo
Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

OLYMPIA — Snohomish County could serve as the model for a proposed drug take-back program designed to save lives statewide, which is why Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick is among those urging citizens to contact their state Legislators to voice their support for it.

“When I was in the state Legislature, we were told never to say that a bill was a ‘no-brainer,’” Lovick said. “But this proposed program should be a no-brainer.”

Although Snohomish County has taken part in national drug take-back days in the past, no permanent statewide, state-funded drug take-back program exists for the sorts of controlled substances that Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer with the Snohomish Health District, cited as responsible for a significant percentage of the deaths from unintended poisoning in Snohomish County.

Goldbaum also reported that deaths due to unintentional poisoning have exceeded the deaths due to motor vehicle accidents in Snohomish County, and across the nation.

“These aren’t suicides, and while people do overdose on illegal drugs, most of these are prescription drugs,” Goldbaum said. “Children have access to them at home. Well-meaning healthcare providers prescribe more than people need and it sits in their medicine cabinets, unused.”

Goldbaum acknowledged that people might have received mixed messages on how to dispose of old drugs, with advice ranging from flushing it down the toilet to mixing it with coffee grounds in solid waste, but he asserted that incineration of such drugs is the only guaranteed way to avoid the risk of those chemicals contaminating the groundwater and affecting the health of people and the environment as a whole.

“Pharmacies like Bartell Drugs and Group Health can accept non-controlled substances, but controlled substances like OxyContin and Vicodin have to be handled by law enforcement, which simply doesn’t have the funds for a permanent take-back program. Neither does Public Health.”

Goldbaum and Jonelle Fenton-Wallace, environmental health specialist with the Snohomish Health District, nonetheless touted the proposed permanent drug take-back program currently working its way through the state Legislature as costing only 2 cents per prescription to provide 311 collection boxes across the state.

“And that’s if we use Snohomish County as our model, which has the Cadillac of drug take-back programs,” Fenton-Wallace said.

Under the Snohomish County drug take-back program, the Arlington Police Department has collected 123 pounds of drugs in 2010 and 269.1 pounds in 2011, while the Marysville Police Department has collected 222.5 pounds of drugs in 2010 and 235.4 pounds in 2011.

Fenton-Wallace listed more than 240 local law enforcement agencies, health organizations, drugstores, local governments, environmental groups and community organizations that support a statewide drug take-back program financed by pharmaceutical manufacturers, instead of by local governments and tax dollars. Among those whom she and Goldbaum credited as “incredibly supportive” of the program are Arlington Police Chief Nelson Beazley and Marysville Police Chief Rick Smith.

“This program provides a tremendous public service by safely and securely disposing of unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medicines, and will cease to exist if the proposed legislation is not passed,” Beazley said. “I strongly doubt the people of this state want to see tons of illegally or improperly disposed-of medicines entering their water systems and landfills.”

“We’ve already been pretty consistent in the amounts of drugs we’ve taken back over the past two years,” Smith said. “Unused drugs often find their way into schools or the hands of inquisitive children, so disposing of them makes for a safer community. This program is valuable and viable, and it doesn’t have to cost that much money.”

At the same time, Fenton-Wallace and Goldbaum joined Lovick in decrying the influence of lobbyists for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America with working to stall the bill.

“The opposition is throwing everything they can at this bill,” said Lovick, who explained that the Secure Medicine Return bill has until Feb. 14 to clear the state Senate, so that it can be considered by the state House of Representatives. “It’s almost disgraceful that we have to have this conversation year after year. Legislators like to hear from their constituents, so they need to hear from the public that we can’t wait for one more person to die, when it would only take two pennies per prescription to save lives.”

For a full list of organizations supporting this bill, log onto www.takebackyourmeds.org. To learn more about it, log onto http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=5234&year=2011.

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