In Our View: Danger in Your Cabinet

Legislators should approve statewide pharmaceuticals take-back program

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Those old prescription drug bottles gathering dust in your medicine cabinet might seem harmless, but they’re prime bait for criminals. And studies have shown that more than half of prescription drug abusers get their medicines from friends or relatives. Also, pharmaceutical substances account for more than half of the calls made to the Washington Poison Center.Several scattered, unaffiliated local efforts around Washington state have attempted to address this problem. Even without much coordination, these take-back programs have resulted in the collection and proper disposal of about 40 tons of dangerous medicines. Imagine what could be accomplished through a coordinated effort. Washingtonians can fuel their imagination by visiting the website Take Back Your Meds. And our legislators can do their part by passing companion bills in the respective chambers this year.

These bills would “create a statewide system for secure return and environmentally sound disposal of leftover prescription and over-the-counter medicines from our homes.” Among the sponsors is state Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver.

The Columbian supported both bills last year, but neither made it to a vote in the House or Senate. This year, lawmakers would be wise to expedite the measures for many reasons, starting with these two: This is not another government program, and it’s budget neutral.

A newly created, nonprofit WA Medicine Return Corp. would manage the medicine take-back program. It would be financed by drug producers through a small, almost negligible fee that amounts to 1 penny per $16 in medicine sales. More important than the size of that fee is that the total would be capped, so that overall revenue could not exceed $2.5 million per year. That’s plenty to run the product stewardship program, but it’s a drop in the bucket for drugmakers: less than 0.07 percent of the $4 billion in annual sales statewide.

Here’s another factor to consider in assessing the cost of the program: Local jurisdictions -- often law enforcement agencies -- would no longer have to absorb the costs of organizing the take-back programs, collecting the substances and transporting them to proper disposal. That would all be handled by a larger, more efficient and more effective statewide program.

It’s easy to see why this proposal is supported by the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs, the Association of Northwest Pharmacies, the Washington Association for Substance Abuse & Violence Prevention, the Washington State Association of Counties and many other groups. They all understand that the best place for unwanted pharmaceuticals is not home medicine cabinets, waiting for crooks or addicts. They also understand that, when Washingtonians don’t know what to do with old medicines or where to take them, medicine cabinets typically become the chosen receptacles. They know that a well-publicized, coordinated, privately funded program is the best solution.

We hope lawmakers this year pass Senate Bill 5234 and House Bill 1370.