This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
Washington state has recycling or take-back programs for old computers, old motor oil and old tires. But people with a few extra Vicodin are out of luck.
That’s absurd and has to change. Too many children and teenagers are raiding their parents’ medicine cabinet with dire consequences. Too many drug addicts are turning to prescription drugs for their fix.
The state’s unintentional poisonings have soared nearly 400 percent in recent years – and prescription drugs are the biggest culprit. In King County last year, deaths from prescription drugs surpassed illegal drugs as the leading cause of drug-related deaths.
Those numbers reflect the growing abuse of prescription medications. The Office of National Drug Control Policy found that in 2006, abuse of prescription pain killers ranked second – behind only marijuana – as the nation’s most prevalent illegal drug problem.
In this state, Health Department surveys have found that 12 percent of 12th-graders say they use prescription pain medications to get high.
At the root of the problem is easy access. People don’t have to buy these drugs from dealers; friends and family provide a ready supply, knowingly or not.
The solution is to reduce the stockpile of leftover drugs sitting in Americans’ bathrooms. But that’s not easy as it should be.
The old advice – to flush unused and expired pills down the toilet – no longer applies. Traces of pharmaceuticals are turning up in drinking water supplies.
Washington is fortunate to have a public-
private partnership that has collected thousands of pounds of old medications since 2006. But even it is stymied by a lack of funding and by federal policy that blunts its effectiveness.
Federal law and Drug Enforcement Administration rules bar such take-back programs from accepting controlled substances – which include the very prescription painkillers and tranquilizers that are fueling prescription drug addictions – unless police are there to receive them.
Rather than allow pharmacists and other health providers to accept the drugs back for safe disposal, the feds offer this advice: Put unused pills in a plastic bag, crush or dissolve them with water, mix in kitty litter or coffee grounds and put the sealed bag in the trash.
Too few Americans go to such trouble. If a drug-disposal program is going to work, it has to be easy. And it’s ridiculous to bar pharmacists from accepting used narcotics when they are already trusted to purchase, store and dispense them.
Washington has been trying to get a waiver from the DEA rule since 2007, to no avail. Now U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, has sponsored legislation to let drug take-back programs accept narcotics and other controlled substances.
A few creative folks aren’t waiting on the feds. In Clallam County, the sheriff deputized pharmacists at two pharmacies to allow them to process returns of any prescription med. Other communities should take note.