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King County passes medicine take-back law

Recently, the Board of Health in King County, Washington voted to pass a medicine take-back law, the second municipality in the United States (after Alameda County) to mandate that pharmaceutical companies pay for the safe disposal of leftover and expired medicines – both prescription and over-the-counter varieties.

Under the new program residents may dispose of unwanted medicines at pharmacies and other secure locations across the county for no charge.

Aside from the more immediate public-health ramifications of expired or leftover medicines – which are linked to increasing rates of poisonings and drug abuse – these long-lasting and hazardous chemicals are of concern to waste managers and water quality professionals, as well as environmental advocates.

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 percent of child poisoning deaths in Washington were caused by someone else’s prescription medication, and 26 percent were caused by over-the-counter medicines.

Under the new rules and regulations:

  • 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 and King County will oversee the program to ensure its effectiveness and safety.