You've probably seen the headlines – the alarming news that drug overdose deaths rose for the eleventh straight year. People and the AP have recently published stories about it. In King County, drug overdoses have surpassed car crashes as a leading cause of accidental death. Medicines used in the home, both prescription and over-the-counter, are the leading cause of poisonings reported to the Washington Poison Center. This is very much a public health concern. And the Board of Health is looking to address it.
Reflections on the State of the Union
While in DC for the Council's annual federal lobbying trip, I had the privilege of attending President Obama's fifth State of the Union. I shared my thoughts on this inspiring experience with the West Seattle Blog. You can find those comments here.
Last spring, I convened a subcommittee of the Board to examine this issue and to propose policy solutions. We have met with community advocates, local governments, law enforcement, representatives from the pharmaceutical industry, nurses, and drug prevention experts. We have examined what other jurisdictions have done to address the growing number of overdoses.
This is a complex problem that requires a comprehensive solution. One aspect of the problem is how to give people a safe way to dispose of leftover medicines to prevent the misuse of unused medicines. A friend or relative's medicine cabinet is often where abusers of prescription drugs get their fix. And thirty-two percent of child poisoning deaths in Washington were caused by someone else's prescription medications; 26 percent were caused by over-the-counter medications.
Welcoming a new councilmember
I want to welcome Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who the Council appointed February 11th to the vacancy created when our colleague Bob Ferguson was elected state Attorney General. A lifelong resident of King County, Councilmember Dembowski brings diverse skills and experience to the position. The appointment is through the General Election this November.
That's why the subcommittee has decided to propose an industry-funded, product-stewardship program. This model, a take-back program, will require pharmaceutical companies to work with pharmacies and law enforcement to create a safe pathway for the destruction of leftover medicines.
The need for safe drug disposal options has been identified by the Office of National Drug Control Policy as a key strategy needed to reduce prescription drug misuse because take-back programs reduce the amount of unused medicines in our home that could be misused. There is demand for such a program. Semi-annual take-back programs put on by the Drug Enforcement Administration and our local law enforcement are popular, as are drop-off programs operated by some law enforcement and pharmacies. But due to limited funding, there are simply not enough of these programs in King County.
The subcommittee's proposed rules and regulations for establishing a medicine take-back program in King County are currently being drafted, and I expect they will be presented to the full Board of Health this spring. There will be a public hearing in the coming months, so the Board of Health can hear community feedback on this program as well.
Together, I know we can make significant progress in decreasing the friends, family and loved ones lost to drug overdose deaths in King County. This is one more step in the Board of Health's ongoing work to ensure a safe and healthy King County for us all.
Until next month,