Guest Column: The family drug dealer

The family medicine cabinet is increasingly becoming a deadly drug dealer, stuffed with expired and leftover prescription and over-the-counter medicines that can be dangerous to a family’s health and to our environment.  For once, there is a solution that is simple, straight forward, cost effective and endorsed by a wide coalition of organizations, including those of us in law enforcement. It’s the Secure Medicine Return Bill, Senate Bill 5234, and it presents the state’s first proposed permanent drug take back program, one that would be funded entirely by pharmaceutical companies.

Illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine are a huge source of concern for parents. The reality is that prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the nation. Many teens mistakenly think prescription and OTC medicines are safer to abuse than illegal drugs. Three out of five teenage drug abusers say that prescription pain relievers are easy to obtain – not clandestinely, but from their parents’ bathrooms.  Law enforcement agencies across the state have first-hand experience with the dangers these leftover prescription and OTC drugs pose.

The state Department of Health finds that Washington has one of the highest rates in the nation of teenager abuse of prescription pain medications.  Drug overdoses in our state have surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death. Meanwhile, fatal poisonings increased 395 percent from 1990 to 2006, with 85 percent of those involving medicines.

Reliable studies suggest that anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of all drugs go unused. Once they become unwanted, medicines designed to improve our lives can become devastating destroyers. The problem goes beyond drug abuse and accidental poisoning. Leftover medicine is toxic waste when it’s flushed, poured down the drain or dumped in the garbage where it can end up polluting our waters, hurting aquatic life and contaminating water supplies.

A voluntary system in place in parts of our state, including Kitsap County, has already proven to be popular and useful to consumers, with more than 160,000 pounds of leftover drugs returned and safely destroyed since 2006.  Unfortunately, these voluntary programs are nonexistent in many parts of the state and are endangered by government cutbacks in others. Medicine take-back programs, like the one that Senate Bill 5234 would create, offer a secure and environmentally sound solution.

The success of mandatory electronics take back programs in Washington state has established and shown that electronics manufacturers can effectively operate return programs.

Pharmaceutical companies sell $4 billion worth of medicines every year in our state, and have a responsibility to help keep families safe.  Unlike financially-strapped law enforcement, they have the resources.

The Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs support medicine take-back legislation during the 2012 legislative session.  And more than 240 health, environmental groups, retail drugstores, local governments, consumer groups and law enforcement leaders  agree that a secure statewide medicine return program is needed.

Failure to act is a prescription for disaster.

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