Safe disposal of old medicine is good for all

Unwanted or unused medicines that helped heal can also do harm in our communities. That’s the word from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, which wants to create a comprehensive medicine return regulation so residents have a safe, convenient, and environmentally friendly way to dispose of old medicine.

“Your medicine cabinet opens the door to an easy high for opioid abusers or potentially deadly poison for curious children,” said Frank DiBiase, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s Environmental Health Division director. “You can reduce both risks when you get rid of unwanted or unused medicines.”

The proposed regulation would offer more environmentally safe options to dispose of unwanted and unused medicine. The garbage and the drain are not viable disposal options because they lead to soil and water pollution.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 75 percent of heroin addicts nationally were initially hooked on opioid medicines, like oxycodone. The same trend is seen in Pierce County, DiBiase said.

A majority of heroin users surveyed here in 2015 were initially hooked on opioid medicines, according to the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. They then turned to heroin, which is cheaper and more readily available, to achieve a similar high to the opioid medicine.

For children, the risk can be unintended. According to the Washington Poison Center, more than 1,500 children under 6 came in contact with or were poisoned by unused or unsecured medicines left in the home.

Pierce County has 21 locations where the public can get rid of most unwanted or unused prescription and non-prescription medicine at secure drop boxes. The Health Department’s proposed regulation would expand that program to make it more convenient with:

  • Expanded drop box locations to more places such as police stations and pharmacies.
  • An option for some residents to send unused medicine by mail to a disposal site for free.
  • Funding from the pharmaceutical industry to run the program.

Citizens can share their thoughts about the issue in-person or in writing at public meetings of the county’s Health Board  on Nov. 2 and Dec. 7 at 3 p.m. at the Health Department at 3629 S. D St. in Tacoma, and in writing to Dr.Anthony L-T Chen, the department’s director of health, at either or 3629 S. D St., Tacoma, WA 98418. The board is scheduled to vote on the proposed regulation at its Dec. 7 meeting.