On Monday, October 21, 2013, Councilmember Richard Conlin was honored as one of the four members of the King County Board of Health Subcommittee on Secure Medicine Return receiving the Washington State Exemplary Substance Abuse Prevention Award in the Local Government category. The honor was conferred for their bold action in designing the second mandatory collection system in the United States for unused and surplus pharmaceuticals.

The Subcommittee and Board are requiring the pharmaceutical companies to fund this program, even though their representatives and lawyers publicly threatened to sue the Board. The pharmaceutical companies have sued Alameda County, California, the first US jurisdiction to adopt such a program. Alameda County recently won a judgment in its favor in the US District Court, but this decision has been appealed and may ultimately make its way to the Supreme Court. While there is always uncertainty about how courts may rule, the Board of Health believed that we were on solid legal and policy ground, and adopted the program despite the attempt to intimidate.

The award was presented at the Washington State Prevention Summit in Yakima. The Prevention Summit is convened by the Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. The prevention community includes the Liquor Control Board’s Alcohol Awareness Program, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention, the Prevention Specialist Certification Board of Washington, and local providers.

The Secure Medicine Return Subcommittee was nominated by Inga Manskopf, a member of the  King County Take Back Your Meds Coalition and a youth substance abuse prevention specialist who works for Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Some text from the nomination form:

“The adoption of a secure medicine return program in King County is part of a multi-pronged strategy for preventing youth medicine abuse. It goes hand-in-hand with coalition and community-based educational activities; the statewide prescription monitoring program; law enforcement efforts to break up illegal sales of medications; and national campaigns teaching people to lock up their medications. As with all substance abuse prevention, multiple partners are needed to be most effective. The King County Board of Health’s Subcommittee on Secure Medicine Return is a perfect example of government playing their part in prevention.

The Subcommittee on Secure Medicine Return developed a rule and regulation to establish a secure medicine return program in King County that will reduce the amount of unused and unwanted medicines in homes and be part of a comprehensive, community-wide strategy for preventing youth substance abuse.

Since the Subcommittee’s process was deliberate and transparent, many community organizations that traditionally do not work together collaborated to advocate for a secure medicine return program. The Subcommittee reached out to community organizations including substance abuse prevention coalitions, environmental groups, and medical providers, in addition to pharmaceutical companies to gain input about policy development. “

The Board of Health, led by King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, adopted the program in June of this year, and it will go into effect early in 2014.