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Board of Health Approves Pharmaceutical Stewardship Ordinance

Snohomish County Becomes Eighth in the Nation with Secure Medicine Return Regulation

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. – At its board meeting on Tuesday, the Board of Health voted 10-0 in favor of approving the pharmaceutical stewardship ordinance as proposed. Snohomish County is now the second in the state to pass such a regulation, modeled closely after the one approved by King County in 2013.


The regulation is a product stewardship policy where the manufacturers of the medicines sold in the county are required to finance and coordinate the secure medicine return system. Medicine producers will develop a stewardship plan to provide both public education and outreach, as well as secure drop boxes throughout the county. At a minimum, there will be a box in each city or town, as well as one box for every 30,000 residents placed to ensure reasonably convenient and equitable locations. The Snohomish Health District will review the stewardship plan and oversee the approved program for safety and compliance.

“We made history here today,” said Brian Sullivan, Board of Health Chair and Snohomish County Councilmember. “I look forward to pharmaceutical stewardship programs like ours spreading across the country, much like the e-waste bill that I authored years ago.”

The convenient secure medicine return system will:

  • Expand safe medicine disposal options for Snohomish County residents to reduce risks of misuse, poisonings, and overdoses from leftover and expired medicines, and reduce the amount of pharmaceuticals entering sewer, septic, and solid waste systems.
  • Improve convenience for residents by expanding locations of secure drop boxes from law enforcement offices to pharmacies and hospitals, as now allowed under DEA regulations.
  • Ensure financial sustainability through a pharmaceutical industry-financed system providing sufficient resources to promote the program and handle larger volumes of returned medicines, and that relieves burdens on local government agencies and taxpayers.

“With 73 percent of teens saying it’s easy to get prescription drugs from parents’ medicine cabinet, and many believing prescription drugs are safer than street drugs, we had an obligation to act,” said Gary Goldbaum, health officer and director of the Snohomish Health District. “Making it easier for the community to get unwanted medicines out of their homes will help prevent more of our youth from experiencing a lifelong struggle with addiction.”

With ordinance now approved, drug producers have until December 14 to submit a proposed stewardship plan.  Producers must then begin operation of the stewardship plan no later than three months after the plan is approved by the Health District.

“We’re using new and innovative approaches like our partnership with the Snohomish Health District on drug take back programs and getting naloxone out into the community,” said Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary. “This pharmaceutical stewardship program is another tool for us. It’s not the full solution, but a great step in the right direction.”

The County’s existing medicine take-back program has successfully collected more than 34,000 pounds of unwanted medicines since it began in 2010. The partnership with the Health District, Snohomish County, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, Snohomish Regional Drug and Gang Task Force, Washington State Patrol, and all local law enforcement agencies will continue until approval of the stewardship plan(s) and operations begin.

For more information about the program, please visit the District’s pharmaceutical stewardship webpage.