In Our View / Disposal of Unused Prescription Drugs

Herald Net – Everett, Wash.
Published: Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Industry ought to fund it

No national or statewide solution was at hand for a glaring and growing problem. So six months ago, police and public health officials throughout Snohomish County launched an effort to get dangerous, unused prescription drugs out of people’s homes and disposed of properly.

Kudos to them, and to Bartell Drugs and Group Health Cooperative, who operate take-back programs for just about any drugs other than narcotics, which the law doesn’t allow them to take. Police agencies can, and in Snohomish County, now most do.

It’s all helping, but the job of keeping these drugs out of waterways — where their long-term environmental impact is unclear — and out of the hands of kids, adults who would abuse them or criminals who would sell them on the black market, requires more.

What’s needed is a comprehensive program, funded by the pharmaceutical industry, that will not only build on existing efforts to educate the public on what to do with unused prescription drugs, but also offer lots of secure, easily accessed sites to drop them off.

Having producers pay for some of their products’ downside is logical. It’s working well with electronics; manufacturers pay to have components recycled when they’re used up, keeping hazardous metals out of landfills and, thus, water tables.

If it raises the price of prescription drugs, the effect will almost certainly be small. But the need for a robust, sustainably funded take-back program is clear, and the money must come from somewhere. It shouldn’t be coming out of strapped police and public health budgets.

Bills to form such industry-financed programs have gotten hearings in Olympia, and have the support of police, solid waste and public health officials, as well as folks who run hospice programs and deal with leftover drugs all the time. Legislation has yet to pass. Lawmakers should make it a priority next year.

Until the Snohomish County program was started, there was no easy and legal way to dispose of many potentially dangerous prescription drugs. Flushing them is illegal. So is putting them into the garbage, because they’re considered hazardous waste.

But without good options, that’s how most folks got rid of them — if they got rid of them at all.

Too often, unused narcotic drugs just sit in medicine cabinets, where they can lead to the accidental poisoning of children, feed the addictions of other adults, or wind up on the street as part of the often violent illegal drug trade.

The pharmaceutical industry produces many wondrous medicines that make life better, but some also have serious side effects for society. The industry needs to take responsibility for them.