On March 22, Governor Inslee signed House Bill 1047 into law, creating the nation’s first statewide, comprehensive drug take-back program to be financed and provided by pharmaceutical manufacturers that sell drugs in Washington state. Championed by Representative Strom Peterson, D- Edmonds, the Secure Drug Take-Back Act will make it easier for residents to safely dispose of leftover medicines and ensure that communities across the state have access to safe drug take-back options.
The Secure Drug Take-Back Act focuses on prevention, seeking to shut down the “drug dealer” in the home medicine cabinet that is a common starting place for medicine misuse and addiction. A majority of people who abuse prescription drugs obtain them from family and friends. In Washington state, overdose deaths have surpassed car accidents as the most common cause of accidental death. According to the Washington State Department of Health, of the almost 700 opioid overdose deaths in 2016, over 400 were attributed to prescription opioids.
Prescription drugs are not only related to overdose and abuse, they also contribute to accidental poisonings and suicides. In Washington, over 150 suicides were attributed to medications in 2015. Prescription drug accumulation in homes can also increase the possibility of accidental poisonings, often due to expired medication or ingestion by a child.
To reduce risks of drug abuse, overdoses, poisonings, and suicides, the Secure Drug Take Back Act requires drug manufacturers to implement a statewide program for the safe and secure collection of unused, expired, and leftover medications. The drug take-back system must operate on a year-round basis and offer convenient drop-off sites in cities and towns across the state. Any pharmacy, hospital, or police agency that volunteers to host a secure drug drop box must be included in the collection system financed by drug manufacturers. Prepaid return mailers will also be available to residents. Additionally, each program must develop a system of promotion, education, and public outreach about the safe storage and collection of pharmaceuticals.
“It’s time the Legislature took this action so that all residents of the state can have access to a convenient and safe drug take-back program,” said Peterson, prime sponsor of the bill. “Safe medicine return is a critical part of an ‘all of the above approach’ to fighting the opioid epidemic. I know first-hand the devastating effects losing someone to an opioid overdose has on a family. We’ve lost too many loved ones to opioid addiction.”
Peterson has worked on other legislation to address the opioid crisis, including being the prime sponsor of bills to increase naloxone distribution and to improve the state’s prescription monitoring program.
Passage of the Secure Drug Take-Back Act fulfills the promise of changes made to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Regulations in 2014 under the federal Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010. Then Congressman Jay Inslee was a champion in the U.S. House of modifying the federal Controlled Substances Act to allow more convenient options for secure drug disposal, including allowing pharmacies to accept return of controlled substances. The federal law change removed barriers but did not provide any funding, leaving it to state and local governments to find solutions to providing drug take-back options.
The WA Secure Drug Take-Back Act establishes the first comprehensive drug take-back program in the nation that will be fully financed and provided by the pharmaceutical industry. Two states – Massachusetts and Vermont – enacted opioid abuse laws in 2016 that have components addressing drug take-back through partial or limited funding from pharmaceutical manufacturers. Finding sustainable and adequate financing has been a key barrier to providing drug take-back services in every community in Washington state.
Sheriff and police departments often provide drug drop boxes but have no dedicated funding to pay to dispose of the large amounts of medicines collected from community members. Under the new law, pharmaceutical manufacturers will directly finance the drug take-back program. The annual cost of the drug take-back program is estimated to be about 0.1 percent of the $5.7 billion in sales that pharmaceutical companies make per year in Washington.