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Director: Jennifer Johnson

Secure Medicine Return

Skagit County Public Health


The accumulation of unused medicines in homes is a public and environmental health issue. Though several law enforcement offices offer secure disposal boxes for unwanted or unused medicines, these locations are inconvenient for many people and lack sufficient and sustainable funding. Public Health is preparing policy for the Board of Health that will create and fund a comprehensive medicine return system. The proposed policy will be modeled on regulations passed by King, Snohomish, Kitsap, Pierce, Clallam and Whatcom counties.

Proposed Policy Goals

  • Expand secure medicine disposal options for Skagit Countyresidents to reduce risks of poisonings and misuse, and to reduce pollution from waste pharmaceuticals.
  • Improve convenience for residents by expanding the number of secure medication dropoff locations to include pharmacies, hospitals and longterm care facilities (partnered witha retail pharmacy), in addition to law enforcement agencies.Prepaid mailer bags will also be a secure disposal option.
  • Ensure financial sustainability through a pharmaceuticalindustryfinanced system
What is the proposed legislation?

The proposed policy requires all companies that manufacture medicines – the producers – to develop and pay for a comprehensive and secure medicine return system. This concept is called pharmaceutical stewardship.

Pharmaceutical producers can combine their resources and hire a company, or stewardship organization, to coordinate the system. The stewardship organization will be required to develop a stewardship plan that meets Skagit County’s required policy components. Skagit County Public Health will review the plan and oversee the approved program for safety and compliance.

Medicine accepted for disposal
Every collection site must accept the following medicines used in the home:

  • Prescription medicines, including legally prescribedcontrolled substances (e.g. narcotics and stimulants)
  • Overthecounter medicines
  • Includes brand name and generic medicine in allforms, and pet medicines used in the home

Proposed Policy Components

Collection Systems
A medicine collection system must provide reasonably convenient and equitable access for all residents. Through this system:

  • Any Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) authorized pharmacy, hospital, or any law enforcement facility that volunteers to host a drop box will be able to participate
  • A minimum number of drop boxes is required in every city, town, and unincorporated area with a pharmacy, hospital, or a law enforcement facility
  • In areas without enough drop boxes, collection events or prepaid return mailers must be provided
  • Prepaid return mailers must also be available upon request for homebound or disabled residents

Secure Handling and Packaging
Stewardship organizations must handle collected medicines securely and confidentially. They must:

  • Comply with all applicable state and federal laws, including the DEA’s security procedures
  • Protect patient confidentiality
  • Recycle packaging, when possible

Collected medicines must be destroyed at an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved hazardous waste facility. Public Health may approve the following alternative methods:

  • A large municipal waste combustion facility
  • Other disposal technologies that are safer for the environment and human health

Education & Outreach
Stewardship organizations must:

  • Promote safe storage of medicine and use of the secure medicine return system
  • Provide educational materials, including a website and a tollfree phone number
  • Discourage disposal of medicine in the trash
  • Use consistentlooking and secure drop boxes, with clear instructions on how to use them
Producer Costs
Pharmaceutical producers are responsible for all costs relating to:
  • Secure drop boxes and collection supplies
  • Transportation and final disposal of medicines
  • Program promotion and evaluation
  • Administrative costs
  • Fees to the Public Health Department for plan review and annual oversight
Oversight & Enforcement
Public Health will:
  • Review and approve the stewardship plan(s)
  • Ensure stewardship organizations are following the regulations
  • Investigate complaints and enforce regulations
  • Evaluate program progress based on stewardship organization reports

Implementation Timeline

If the policy passes, the producers’ stewardship organization will begin planning. It will take approximately 69 months for the program to be approved and begin operations.

For more information, contact:
Britt PfaffDunton


Skagit County Public Health
700 S. 2nd St. STE 301
Mount Vernon, WA 98273