Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Unwanted drugs affect our communities

We used to worry about the illicit drugs that were smuggled into the country or made illegally in someone’s garage. Today it’s the drugs in our own medicine cabinets that are causing America’s biggest drug problems.

Drug overdoses caused by prescription drugs, especially opioids, are now the leading cause of injury-related deaths in Washington and fifteen other states, supplanting traffic accidents. Our cars are safer but our meds are not.
In general, [University of Washington researcher] Banta-Green said, the deaths are a result of inappropriate use of prescription opioids with alcohol or other drugs …"Very rarely are they taking them exactly as prescribed," he said. In other cases, the drugs have been stolen from people to whom they were prescribed.

As prescriptions have risen, so, too, has abuse — among all age levels. One-tenth of Washington 10th-graders have reported using opiates to get high in the past few years.
Teens can find these heavy-duty pain killers in their own medicine cabinets as they are prescribed to one in five adults and one in ten adolescents a year. That makes opioids an easy access, drug-of-choice for teens today. Among young teens in Washington, pharmaceuticals are now more popular than either alcohol or marijuana.

So what should we do with the leftover pills in the cabinet? We used to be told to flush unwanted medications down the toilet, but since these chemicals have started showing up in our drinking water supplies and bodies of water such as the Puget Sound, officials are looking for safer homes for unwanted meds.

A pilot program developed by a coalition of local and state governments and non-profits in Washington state collected 21,000 pounds of unwanted drugs in almost two and a half years. The drugs were then disposed of safely as hazardous waste. As part of this program, you can currently bring your unwanted medications to a limited number of Bartell Drugs and Group Health pharmacies, but more resources are necessary in order to make the program run long-term.

Legislation (House Bill 1165 and Senate Bill 5279) to provide for a pharmaceutical-industry funded medicine return program passed two key House committees in Olympia last winter but failed to come up for a full House vote. Plans are being made for a repeat run of the bills during the upcoming session which starts this January.

At little or no cost to the state, this proposed legislation would put a dent in a number of serious drug-related issues: drug abuse, drug-related deaths and environmental contamination. This can be done. We have successful take-back programs for electronics and motor oil, and drug disposal programs are working well elsewhere:
This is not a new idea -- medicine makers have been operating successful take-back programs in Canada, France, Spain and elsewhere for many years. British Columbia's program, for example, has been operating since 1996 and is fully paid for by the pharmaceutical industry. The program took back more than 53,000 pounds of unwanted medications in 2007, and it costs less than $300,000 per year.
The pharmaceutical industry does a great job of selling us products that we need. They can also be a part of the solution once their products cause more harm than healing.


Blogger Margaret Shield said...

Thanks Kathleen for an excellent summary of this issue of importance to our communities as we grapple with increasing prescription drug abuse and increasing accidental poisonings involving medications. Medicine return programs work and are an important part of the solution to these problems. Many law enforcement organizations are stepping up to provide drug take-back programs which can accept controlled substances, such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, and Ritalin. More communities could have these programs if funding was provided by drug manufacturers as provided by HB 1165.

A broad coalition of substance abuse organizations, children's advocates, environmental organizations, law enforcement, and government agenices are working together to support passage of the Secure Medicine Return bill. To get your organization involved, please contact the office of Representative Dawn Morrell, see:

Congressman Jay Inslee also deserves our thanks and support for his onging efforts to amend the fedearal Controlled Substances Act to make it simpler and more effective for medicine return programs to collect legally prescribed controlled substances.

See for Group Health and Bartell Drugs locations that accept unwanted medicines.

Margaret Shield
Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County

October 6, 2009 8:30 PM  

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