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Drug makers will have to set up safe disposal of unused medications to reduce potential for human abuse and remove them before wastewater is treated. County is first in Oregon, where there is pending state legislation.

Washington County is the first large county in Oregon to require drug makers to set up safe disposal of their unused medications.

The ordinance takes effect June 6. Commissioners approved it unanimously on May 7.

Though disposal boxes have been set up at police agencies and some pharmacies, advocates say it is still too easy for potential abusers to obtain opioids and other medications sitting unused at home.

"What we are looking for is that it needs to be as easy to get rid of your opioids as to get them in the first place," said Dwight Holton, chief executive officer of Lines for Life, a nonprofit aimed at preventing substance abuse and suicide.

"I am here for one reason," said Holton, a former U.S. attorney for Oregon. "I have met way too many parents who have lost children to an opioid overdose. I am convinced beyond a doubt that this ordinance and proper disposal of opioids will help us meet the remarkable challenge of opioid addiction and overdose in Oregon."

Holton said if it is assumed that two-thirds of medications go unused — and there are 75,000 prescriptions annually in Washington County, each for a 30-day supply — thousands of pills are accessible for the wrong uses.

Commissioner Dick Schouten said the issue has been before the county board, which also governs Clean Water Services, the agency that treats wastewater in the county's urban areas.

"This came to our attention several years ago, when the staff of Clean Water Services raised concerns about many of these medications that were being flushed down the toilet and into the sewer system," he said. "There is no way to deal with it once it is in the water."

Schouten said a standardized system of disposal will be easier for people to follow instead of special takeback events.

Schouten also said that approval by Oregon's second most populous county might prod the Oregon Legislature to act on statewide takeback legislation that is pending in the joint budget committee.

Rep. Sheri Schouten, D-Beaverton — a former public health nurse who is married to Dick Schouten — is a chief sponsor of House Bill 3273, as is Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, a physician.

The bill is backed by the Association of Oregon Counties, League of Oregon Cities, Oregon State Sheriffs Association and Oregon Association Chiefs of Police.

Similar laws are in effect in Washington, California and New York, and in 20 counties, including Cook County (Chicago), Illinois. A drug takeback program in San Francisco has resulted in pharmacies collecting 80,437 pounds, compared to law enforcement collection of 4,095 pounds during the same time frame.

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., proposed similar legislation in the most recent Congress. A spokeswoman said Bonamici plans to do so again this year.

Multnomah County commissioners said March 28 they may enact their own plan if the Legislature fails to act.

The ordinance follows the model for disposal of unused or old paint, electronic equipment and dental waste to reduce negative effects on the environment and public health.

The ordinance applies to both prescription and over-the-counter human medicines. The ordinance does not include sharps disposal. Other key components:

• Drug manufacturers will design, fund and implement a plan to manage drug collection.

• Drug manufacturers will securely collect unwanted medicines from the public.

• Drug manufacturers will increase access to drug collection kiosks by providing a minimum number of collection sites to residents based on population.

• Drug manufacturers are required to offer education and outreach to consumers on the safe and secure storage of medications as well as the inherent risks of improperly storing or disposing of opioids, and to discourage disposal of covered drugs in the garbage or sewer system.

• Pharmacies and law enforcement agencies can volunteer to participate in a manufacturer's plan to host drug collection kiosks.

"Providing a safe and easy way for people to dispose of their unwanted and extra drugs will have a tremendous impact on the public's health," said Marni Kuyl, director of the county Health and Human Services Department, which will oversee the drug takeback program.

Although many county ordinances apply just to areas outside cities, the takeback program applies to the entire county under the board's authority to safeguard public health.

"We should go on record that we have heard their concerns and appreciate the home-rule issue," said Commissioner Roy Rogers, a former mayor of Tualatin. "But to me, this is a public health issue."

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NOTE: Adds mention of effort by U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., to advance similar legislation in the most recent Congress.

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