County’s drug take-back program’s future uncertain
EVERETT - Proponents of a popular state drug take-back law blame the pharmaceutical industry’s political power for the bill’s recent failure, while Snohomish County’s drug take-back program is vulnerable to collapse.
State legislation mandating pharmaceutical companies provide and fund prescription medicine take-back programs failed to advance in the Legislature last month.
The law is necessary to properly dispose of unused prescriptions for environmental and public safety reasons, say a broad coalition of public health and law enforcement officials.
In 2004, accidental overdoses overtook car accidents as the leading cause of deaths in Snohomish County. Similar trends are being seen statewide and nationally.
In Snohomish County, its drug take-back program may be on the verge of collapse.
It costs $60,000 to run the program each year. The program is funded through the Snohomish Health District, Snohomish County Solid Waste and a grant from the state Department of Ecology. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office provides the labor.
These organizations are “eating the cost” of running the program. In recent internal meetings, there’s been talk the sheriff’s office can no longer invest manpower in the program, said Pat Slack, commander of the Snohomish County Regional Drug Task Force.
“We’re trying to save it,” Slack said.
Slack is a vocal supporter of the drug take-back bill. He worked with Snohomish Health District employee Jonelle Fenton-Wallace to pioneer the county’s drug take-back program, which started in December 2009. (Fenton-Wallace now works for the district and the sheriff’s office in a combined position.)
Police departments added green take-back boxes for people to drop off unused medicine and illicit drugs. Last year, the county program collected 4,620 pounds of medicine at countywide police departments, Fenton-Wallace said.
Bartell’s and Kusler’s in Snohomish offer similar take-back boxes, but the stores cannot take controlled prescription opiate medicines such as Percocet, Vicodin, Oxycontin and Oxycodone. For some time, Oxycontin became thedrug of choice among drug users before changes to the pills made them harder to crush and get high on.
Law enforcement worked diligently to get teens away from meth, but Slack worries fighting pill abuse will be harder. Safe disposal sites are important to combat this, law enforcement officials say.
“We did a good job scaring kids on meth, but the message they learned is meth came from bad labs,” but they see prescription medication as made by safe pharmaceutical companies, Slack said. “Just because they’re prescribed by doctors doesn’t mean it’s prescribed for you.”
By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published March 7, 2012