Media Contact Information

Board of Health unanimously passes medicine return regulation

December 8, 2016

Options for safe disposal of unwanted prescription medicines expands

Unused painkillers left in home feed opioid epidemic, contribute to accidental poisonings among children. Safe and convenient removal of these drugs from the medicine cabinets protects communities, the environment.

TACOMA, Wash. – The Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health took a stand against the potential dangers lurking in the home medicine cabinet. In a unanimous vote, board members adopted a comprehensive medicine return regulation at their Dec. 7 meeting. The regulation expands options for the safe, convenient, and environmentally friendly disposal of prescription medicines.

“Harmful medicines can easily find their way from the medicine cabinet into the wrong hands or into the environment,” said Anthony L-T Chen, MD, MPH, director of health at Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. “The regulation protects people and the environment and prevents overdoses and addiction,” Chen said.

In 2015, a majority of heroin users surveyed in Pierce County said they were first hooked on opioid medicines like those found in the home medicine cabinet, according to the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. Heroin later became their drug of choice because it helped them achieve a similar high to medicines like Percocet and Vicodin. Heroin is also cheaper.

Feedback from the community influenced the Health Department in the development of this regulation. The Department considered testimony from the public gathered at meetings and written comments.

The new regulation will begin to take effect in the fall of 2017. To give residents greater convenience, the regulation will:

  • Expand medicine drop box locations to more places such as pharmacies, hospitals, and police stations.
  • Add an option for some residents to send unused medicine by mail to a disposal site for free.
  • Use funding from the pharmaceutical industry to run the program.

These options will add to the 21 drop box locations where Pierce County residents can get rid of most unwanted or unused prescription and non-prescription medicine.

Learn more about the safe and environmentally friendly disposal of unwanted medicines at

« Back to Headlines