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Safe, Convenient Drug Disposal Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood

Safe, Convenient Drug Disposal Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood

Although drug take-back events and programs exist throughout the nation, new legislation will bring the first comprehensive, statewide drug collection and disposal program operated by drug manufacturers to Washington State.

The Secure Drug Take-Back Act (ESHB 1047), which was signed into law this past March, will offer a system of secure drug drop sites in every city and town across Washington for collection of unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medicines. State residents in outlying areas can access the program via prepaid mailers or sponsored events.

ESHB 1047 lays out other key requirements including public education, security requirements, use of environmentally sound disposal facilities, and program evaluation. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) will oversee the program, including reviewing and approving program proposals.

Successful County Take-Back Programs Pave the Way

A handful of counties paved the way for this legislation. The Secure Drug Take-Back Act is modeled on many aspects of Secure Medicine Return ordinances enacted in King, Snohomish, Kitsap, Pierce, Clallam, Whatcom, and Skagit counties. In these locations, county Boards of Health adopted the ordinances as part of a comprehensive strategy to protect public health by reducing opioid and medicine abuse, overdoses, suicides, poisonings, and by preventing environmental pollution from waste medicines.

Though local law enforcement agencies often collected and disposed of unwanted medication in these areas, the sites were not always convenient for all residents and the agencies had no dedicated funding stream to cover pharmaceutical disposal fees. The counties wanted comprehensive, convenient systems, and thus, Secure Medicine Return ordinances were developed, requiring drug manufacturers to offer countywide disposal programs for unwanted prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines. Additionally, the ordinances often had specific service standards for cities, towns, and unincorporated areas.

Through MED-Project LLC, the pharmaceutical industry is providing DEA-compliant drug take-back programs in the aforementioned Washington counties that passed Secure Medicine Return ordinances. Manufacturers are responsible for costs of secure drop boxes, collection supplies, transportation and safe destruction of collected medicines, public education, and program administration. As part of the program, drug return sites can be hosted by any qualifying pharmacy and/or law enforcement agency.

State legislators took note of the successful county programs, and with the support of a broad coalition composed of pharmacies, law enforcement organizations, health professionals, public health organizations, substance abuse prevention groups, mental health advocates, water agencies, and environmental organizations, legislators crafted what eventually became ESHB 1047. Despite industry opposition, the bill enjoyed strong bipartisan support and passed easily.

New Legislation Program Requirements

The law requires drug manufacturers to implement a statewide drug disposal program that must operate convenient, community based, drug drop-off sites in cities and towns year-round, as well as convenient access to disposal services for residents living in more remote areas. Specific program information is detailed below. 

Drug collection and disposal

As envisioned in ESHB 1047, the primary means of collecting unwanted medicine will be a system of community based drop boxes located in convenient places, such as drugstores, grocery stores with pharmacies, medical clinics, hospitals, and police stations. All collecting sites will participate voluntarily.

The law requires at least one collection site be provided in every city/town’s population area (defined as including a 10-mile radius around each city or town), plus one additional collection site for every 50,000 residents. In any areas of the state that are underserved by secure drug drop boxes, manufacturers will need to provide either mailer distribution locations or collection events operated by law enforcement.

Covered and exempt products

Under the law, only “covered drugs” will be collected, including prescription and over-the-counter medication, brand name and generic, drugs for veterinary use, and drugs in medical device and combination products. It also includes medications that manufacturers have abandoned or discarded, or plan to abandon or discard.

Excluded are herbal remedies, vitamins, supplements, cosmetics, other personal care products, compressed cylinders, aerosols, inhalers, medical devices, pet pesticide products, illicit drugs, iodine-containing medications, and any drugs included in the FDA REMS program. Needles and medical sharps are also exempt, and only Santa Cruz County (CA) allows disposal of these via its countywide take-back program.

Public outreach and education

Drug manufacturers must provide a website and toll-free number to educate the public about the program. They must also distribute educational materials that promote the use of the program and the safe storage of drugs, and that discourage residents from disposing of covered drugs in solid waste collection, sewer, or septic systems. State and local government agencies should expect to partner with manufacturers to promote the program.

Enacting the Law

The law went effect on June 7 and requires drug manufacturers to submit their proposed programs to DOH by July 1, 2019. Once a proposal is approved, the program must be up and running within 180 days. The bill also defines earlier deadlines for when manufacturers must contact pharmacies, hospitals, law enforcement, and other potential drop-off sites of the opportunity to host a drop box.

There are penalties that come with running afoul of the new law, including:

  • An informal administrative conference;
  • A restriction on ability to engage in certain activities; or
  • A civil fine of up to $2,000.00 per day.

The Secure Drug Take-Back Act sunsets in January 2029, at which time the legislature can review and reauthorize the program.

What Happens to Existing County Programs? 

Programs running in King, Snohomish, Kitsap, Pierce, Whatcom, and Skagit counties, as well the one being developed in Clallam county, will continue to operate until such time that a statewide program has been approved and implemented. Once the statewide program rolls out, there will be a 1-year transition period during which existing county programs will be rolled into the statewide system. At the end of the transition period, all existing and future local laws regarding drug take-back programs are preempted.

 It is anticipated that a statewide system will be up and running by late 2020.

Addressing an Ongoing Need

Finding sustainable and adequate financing has been a key barrier to providing drug take-back services in every community in Washington State. Under the new law, pharmaceutical manufacturers will directly finance the drug take-back program, with the estimated cost being 0.1% of all annual medicines sales in the state. 

Questions? Comments?

If you have thoughts about this blog post, please comment below or email me. If you have questions about this or other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

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About Leah LaCivita

Leah joined MRSC as a Communications Coordinator in the fall of 2016 and manages MRSC’s blog and webinar training program, in addition to developing website content.