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Drug abuse and poisoning prevention start at your medicine cabinet

October 12, 2016

Safe medicine disposal regulation cure for unused or unwanted medicine at home
Disposal of these medicines critical to address opioid epidemic and prevent accidental child poisonings in Pierce County. Call for public comment on proposed regulation.

TACOMA, Wash. –
Unwanted or unused medicines that helped heal can also do harm in our communities. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department wants to create a comprehensive Medicine Return regulation so residents have a safe, convenient, and environmentally friendly way to dispose of these medicines.

“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,” DiBiase said.

The regulation would offer residents more environmentally friendly 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.

Dangers in Your Medicine Cabinet

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nationally more than 75% of heroin addicts were initially hooked on opioid medicines, like oxycodone. We see the same trend in Pierce County. A majority of heroin users surveyed here in 2015 said they, too, 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.

Make Your Medicine Cabinet and Community Safe

Pierce County has 21 locations where you 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 this program to make it more convenient for residents 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.
We Want to Hear from You

Your feedback and input are important. We want you to share your thoughts as we go through the process to create our Medicine Return Program. You can choose to comment in person or in writing:

In Person – Three opportunities at meetings in the Health Department Auditorium, 3629 S. D St., Tacoma:

Public meeting:

  • Tuesday, Oct. 18, 6-7 p.m.

Board of health meetings:

  • Wednesday, Nov. 2, 3-5 p.m. during public comment period.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 7., 3-5 p.m. after presentation on Medicine Return regulations.

In Writing – Send your comments by Nov. 14 at 4:30 p.m. to Director of Health Anthony L-T Chen, MD, MPH, via:


Regular mail: 3629 S. D St., Tacoma, WA 98418.

The board of health is set to vote on the proposed regulation at the Dec. 7 meeting. Learn more about the proposal and current locations where you can leave unwanted and unused medicine at

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