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The program promotes the safe disposal of unused prescription and over-the-counter medicines, and will be funded and operated by the drug manufacturers who produce the medications.

Under the new program residents may dispose of unwanted medicines at pharmacies and other secure locations across the county for no charge. The new law will create only the second such system in the country.

"Today's vote makes us the second jurisdiction in the nation to provide a safe and convenient way for residents to get rid of their unneeded medicines. I am proud of my fellow board members for passing this historic Rule & Regulation," said Board of Health Chair Joe McDermott. "The Board took strong action today to close a gap in the comprehensive response to misuse and abuse of medicines."

Board members recognized that more people die from overdoses due to prescription medicines than from heroin and cocaine combined and that most abusers of medicines get the pills from a friend or relative's medicine cabinet. In fact, 32% of child poisoning deaths in Washington were caused by someone else's prescription medication, and 26% were caused by over-the-counter medicines.

"The more effective solution to the drug abuse crisis is prevention," said Boardmember Dr. Bud Nicola. "Making it easy for residents to use a take-back system means fewer drugs in medicine cabinets, leading to fewer overdoses and poisonings."

"Requiring the drug manufacturers to pay for the disposal of their products is good product stewardship," said Boardmember and Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin. "A convenient take back system will keep drugs out of the hands of children and teenagers."

"This is a common sense solution to a problem we've known about for a long time," said Boardmember David Baker, Mayor of Kenmore. "This program is part of a comprehensive approach to address our community's drug overdose and poisoning epidemic."

Under the new Rule & Regulation:

  • Residents will be encouraged to drop, free-of-charge, their leftover and expired medicines in secure boxes conveniently located in most retail pharmacies or law enforcement offices throughout King County;
  • Collected medicines would then be destroyed by incineration at properly permitted facilities;
  • Drug manufacturers selling medicines for residential use in King County would be required to run and pay for the program; and
  • Public Health – Seattle & King County would oversee the program to ensure its effectiveness and safety.

Alameda County in California passed similar legislation last year, though PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) has sued to block the law from taking effect.

"About 30% of prescription and over-the-counter medicines go unused, and too often linger in home medicine cabinets increasing risks of misuse or abuse," said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County. "A safe and convenient drug disposal system for prescription and over-the-counter drugs will serve the public's health."