Don’t be an accidental drug pusher; try new way to discard old meds

Rick Talbert represents District 5 on the Pierce County Council.
Rick Talbert represents District 5 on the Pierce County Council. courtesy photo

We see the ravages of the local opioid epidemic every day. As local policymakers, we look for creative solutions to help prevent or lessen the problem.

This month, new medicine-return kiosks are popping up at area pharmacies and law enforcement sites around Pierce County. It’s the result of the Secure Medicine Return Resolution, which the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health passed in December 2016.

Why is safe medicine return a big deal? Abuse of prescription painkillers often leads to heroin use and addiction. The home medicine cabinet has become the most common drug pusher in our community.

If you have expired or unused medications in your home, you may be feeding the problem unknowingly. As well as paving the path to addiction, unused medications can be the source of a drug overdose, accidental poisoning and illegal prescription drug sales.

Last year in Pierce County alone, more than 1,500 children under 6 were victims of accidental poisoning because of unused or unsecured medications. Many teenagers look for prescription medicine to get high or to sell to friends.

Our Secure Medicine Return Resolution requires manufacturers to take financial responsibility for the safe handling and disposal of their products. In response, the pharmaceutical industry created MED-Project to operate and fund a permanent collection program for residents.

Safe medicine return is one tool in the fight against the opioid epidemic – and a resource to help us protect the environment.

Federal guidelines identify secure take-back programs as the best disposal option for medicines, and preferable to placing pills in the household garbage.

Medications that go to the landfill or down our toilets can have negative effects on our environment. Medication collected through MED-Project take-back programs is destroyed at an EPA-approved incinerator.

By the end of the month, 27 collection sites will be in place around the county, with more on the way. Plus, residents can use MED-Project’s postage-paid mailers if kiosks are not accessible.

The program builds on our successful partnerships with local law enforcement. Between 2010 and 2017, Pierce County residents returned over 42,000 pounds of unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medicines at law enforcement kiosks or collection events.

That’s a huge amount; imagine what will be collected now that everyone reading this column can easily return unused medicines to an expanded network of collection sites, including clinical and retail pharmacies. You probably visit your pharmacy more often than you visit your local police station.

We know the risks that improper medicine disposal has on our families, community and environment. We are pleased to support innovative work that helps residents safely and securely dispose of unneeded medications.

Along with six other Washington counties, we have led the way applying a manufacturer-funded medicine take-back model. Just last session, the Legislature passed a statewide Secure Medicine Return law based on these local standards.

When the statewide program is fully implemented in two years, Washington will be the first state in the U.S. to offer the MED-Project program model to all residents.

We are proud that Pierce County helped pave the way!

Learn more about safe and convenient medicine return at: www.med-project.org, or visit Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to find out more on our effort to combat the opioid epidemic at: www.tpchd.org/medicine-return.

Rick Talbert and Connie Ladenburg, both of Tacoma, are Pierce County Council members representing District 5 and District 4, respectively. They also sit on the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health, which Talbert chairs.