The Environmental Advocate: Why you should take back unwanted medications


My Edmonds News is proud to welcome Edmonds environmental educator and advocate Laura Spehar as a weekly columnist.

By Laura Spehar
WSU Beach Watcher and Shore Steward

Did you know that prescription drug abuse in the United States is increasing at alarming rates, and the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses due to these drugs are also rising? A majority of abused medicines are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet. Pharmaceuticals are also a significant water pollutant nationwide and a concern in Puget Sound.

About 30 percent of medicines sold go unused or expire, so disposing of these waste medicines properly through a drug take-back program is an important action to protect our waterways and aquatic ecosystems. In 2010, 139 streams were sampled throughout the U.S. and 80 percent tested positive for the presence of pharmaceuticals.

In the Pacific Northwest, researchers have found painkillers, antihistamines, antibiotics, heart medications and hormones in surface, ground and marine waters as well as in soils and sediments. For years, the advice was to flush our unused drugs or throw them in the garbage. This is no longer the case as we have witnessed increasing amounts of toxins rise in our waterways and leach into our soils.

Returning medicines to a take-back program is the only environmentally sound method for disposing of unwanted medicines. Because of the dire need, some law enforcement offices including the Edmonds Police Department and Edmonds Bartell Drugs are collecting unwanted medicines from residents. Even Walgreens pharmacies have a mail-in, postage paid envelope you can purchase to mail in unwanted medications.

Is it really that hard to take the time and gather unwanted meds to be dropped off into a secure double-locked collection box? If it literally would save a life of a friend, family member, pet or Puget Sound, would it then be an easier choice to make? More drop-off stations are definitely needed in Washington state. Long-term funding and policies need to be put into place to make sure this program continues to grow.

Currently local governments, retailers and taxpayers bear the financial burden for programs that dispose of unused medicines. It seems that it is time for the manufacturers to carry their share of the responsibility. Local governments and organizations are working to support passage of legislation to create a state-wide take-back program. In other countries drug companies help fund take-back programs; in Washington state we have not been this fortunate. The goal would be to approve legislation to launch a statewide medicine take-back program funded by the pharmaceutical companies.

To learn more about these programs, contact your state legislator or visit By doing so, you may be helping to reduce the risk of expired-medicine poisoning to yourself, your family, your pets and your community.

Laura Spehar is a Montessori teacher and environmental educator. She is a WSU Master Gardener, Beach Watcher and Carbon Master, and holds certifications in wildlife habitat and native plant stewardships. Spehar serves on the Snohomish Conservation District’s Advisory Board, Pilchuck Audubon Society Board, Friends of the Edmonds Library Board, and the City of Edmonds Mayor’s Climate Action Committee Board and Tree Board. She was awarded the National Wildlife Federation’s National Conservation Service Award in 2010. Spehar lives in Edmonds with her husband Paul and their two dogs Goldie and Happy on two acres of well-loved and protected wetland/stream side habitat.

3 Replies to “The Environmental Advocate: Why you should take back unwanted medications”

  1. Right on, Laura! Edmonds’ political advocate, Mike Doubleday has that as one of his agenda items to discuss in Olympia. Good summary!



  2. Great info, Laura. I had no idea these programs existed. I have bottles of expired/useless medicine sitting around the house and wasn’t sure what to do with it. Now I know. Thanks!!!




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