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McDermott: Supreme Court action supports safe disposal of unused drugs


U.S. Supreme Court allows lower court decisions in support of a program similar to King County Secure Medicine Return Rule and Regulation to stand


King County’s efforts to ensure that unused drugs are disposed of safely received support when the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition to hear a case challenging a similar program in Alameda County, California.

“We took a bold step forward to protect public health by establishing a safer way for residents to discard unused medications. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision has confirmed what we’ve known all along – that safe disposal of expired and unwanted medicine is a shared responsibility.” said Metropolitan King County Council Vice Chair Joe McDermott, Chair of the King County Board of Health.

In June 2013, the King County Board of Health passed the Secure Medicine Return Rule and Regulation, establishing an industry–funded product stewardship model to collect and safely dispose of unwanted medicines from households in King County.

“We have a proven need to protect people from the increasing number of poisonings and illicit use of unused drugs in our homes. I'm pleased that King County can now proceed with this popular program,” declared Kenmore Mayor David Baker, Vice Chair of the Board of Health

Ensuring that residents can safely dispose of unwanted medicines protects public health and the environment. Drug misuse contributes to accidental poisonings and has become a leading cause of accidental death in the United States, surpassing car crashes. Safe disposal also protects the environment by keeping medicines from entering our local waterways, including Puget Sound.

Residents will soon be able to deposit, free of charge, their leftover and expired over-the-counter and prescription medicines in secure drop-boxes conveniently located in retail pharmacies or law enforcement offices throughout King County. The collected medicines will be destroyed by incineration at properly permitted facilities. The program is funded by pharmaceutical companies that sell medicines for residential use in King County.

Stewardship plans are currently in development and King County has completed its initial review of two proposed plans. The deadline for submission of a revised plan is July 13, 2015. It is anticipated that the program will begin taking back medicines early next year.

Northern California’s Alameda County adopted the Safe Drug Disposal ordinance in 2012, similarly requiring producers to fund or operate take-back programs if they sell, offer for sale or distribute covered prescription medications. Alameda County’s program was challenged in court by three trade groups representing pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

The lower courts found in favor of Alameda County, and the plaintiffs then petitioned the Supreme Court for review. Late last month, the Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs’ petition for review. With this final decision, Alameda County is now moving toward program implementation.

King County faced a similar legal action filed by the same plaintiffs plus a fourth trade group. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the plaintiffs terminated their case against King County.

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