Emerson doesn’t swallow pill take-back program

Island County commissioners sided with 27 county sheriffs in the state, including Island County Sheriff Mark Brown, in sending a letter to state lawmakers urging support for “take back your meds” bills.

It’s common for commissioners to send such a letter supporting bills, programs or grant applications, but this one spawned the first disagreement in years over an official letter from the board.

The proposed bills, currently in both the state House and Senate, would create a medicine return program financed by pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Law enforcement officials have been alarmed at the abuse of prescription pills in recent years and they hope that simply getting unwanted narcotics out of medicine cabinets will help with the problem. A total of 27 sheriffs, along with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, endorsed the bills.

Last year, Sheriff Brown helped spearhead a take-back program, funded by the federal government, that netted 300 pounds of pills.

The commissioners’ letter points out that drug overdoses have surpassed auto accidents as the number-one killer in Washington State.

In addition, environmentalists are concerned about the effect drugs can have on the environment, especially the water supply and aquatic life.

But Commissioner Kelly Emerson, a tea party  Republican, was opposed to the board sending a letter supporting the bills. She read from a legislative memo by the Washington Policy Center which argued that there’s no clear evidence that the drugs cause environmental harm.

“If passed, these drug take-back proposals would not benefit the environment in any significant way, but would increase the cost of medical care for people who need life-saving drugs,” she said at the commissioners’ Feb. 14 meeting.

In addition, Emerson, reading from the memo, said that the state should conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the state’s top environmental concerns.

“I’m surprised you would urge us to do more study, but I respect your opinion,” responded Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, a Democrat.

Commissioner Angie Homola, also a Democrat, described her own difficulties in trying to dispose of prescription medicine. She found that pharmacies wouldn’t take them back and that the county solid waste department doesn’t have a program to accept pills.

She said the pharmaceutical industry receives $25 billion a year from the government for research.

“They are getting a lot of money from the federal government and I think it’s time for them to help just a little bit,” she said.

In the end, Price Johnson and Homola voted to send the letter to state Rep. Barbara Bailey, Rep. Norma Smith and Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, while Emerson was opposed.

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