City Council Endorses Prescription Drug Take-Back Program

The Seattle City Council unanimously approved legislation encouraging local pharmacies and police precincts to set up drop-boxes for unused, surplus prescription medicines, including controlled opioid drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Valium and Ritalin.

“Prescription drug abuse is a serious threat to our community and often leads to addiction and the use of other narcotics like heroin,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess. “Deaths from drug overdoses exceed deaths from traffic collisions across our country. Reducing the availability of excess prescription drugs is a practical step to curbing the opioid epidemic in our city.”

Until recently, pharmacies could only accept returned unused over-the-counter medicine, not controlled substances like prescription opioids. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has new regulations, however, that allow pharmacies to accept these drugs too.

“Opioid addiction continues to tear families apart — and all our families are at risk,” said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. “This national epidemic requires innovation at all levels of government, and this ordinance is another positive step. We must all take responsibility by removing unneeded prescription medicines from our homes to reduce the risk that another victim will fall into chemical dependency.”

The King County program endorsed in this resolution is funded by pharmaceutical companies and comes with no cost to the pharmacies. A stewardship organization retained by King County will take care of installation of drop-boxes, staff training, and collection of the drugs.

Studies show that prescription drug abuse leads to abuse of non-medical drugs like heroin because it is less expensive in the illegal marketplace than opioid pain relievers. Youth and young adults are most likely to experiment with opioid pain relievers using pills that came from a friend or family member’s prescription.

According to proponents of the legislation, improper disposal of prescription drugs, including controlled substances, contributes to environmental degradation as well. A recent study described in a 2016 article in the journal Environmental Pollution found traces of numerous prescription drugs in Puget Sound waters.

A growing number of police departments in King County are offering safe disposal of controlled substances, including Auburn, Bothell, Burien, Issaquah, Kenmore, Lake Forest Park, Maple Valley, Sammamish, Snoqualmie, and Woodinville. This resolution encourages the Seattle Police Department to host take-back boxes in precincts.