Testimony: Why HB 1047 can help reduce suicides, through safe Rx storage and disposal

This morning, I submitted a testimony before the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, which is considering several pieces of legislation related to substance abuse prevention and treatment. My testimony was in support of House Bill 1047, a drug take-back program to protect public health through safe storage and disposal of medications:

“My name is Jennifer Stuber. I am an Associate Professor at the University of Washington and the director of a suicide prevention organization called Forefront. I am strongly in support of HB 1047, speaking on behalf of Forefront which represents the voices of many suicide loss and attempt survivors in Washington.

Today, Washington is experiencing an enormous crisis from suicide and the abuse of medications. While medications are intended to help people feel better and to get well, when they are not safely stored and properly disposed of, they can be deadly.

I wanted to share with you some startling statistics about suicide in Washington:

  • Suicide is the 8th leading cause of death among WA residents and the second leading cause of death among youth;
  • 19% of deaths by suicide in WA State are by poisoning; this means 215 of the 1129 deaths by suicide in WA state in 2015 were by poisoning
  • For every death by suicide, there are approximately 25 suicide attempts
  • Approximately 64% of suicide attempts (many resulting in ER visits and hospitalizations) involve prescription medications
  • Youth who attempt or die by suicide using prescription medications overwhelmingly find these medications within their own homes.

In addition to educating households about the signs of suicide and the need to properly dispose of and safely store medications, it is critical that barriers to disposing of extra medications that exist in communities across WA do not exist.

Look in your own medicine cabinet. Are there prescription medications inside that you didn’t finish, no longer need and are not stored safely or disposed of? What would you do to get rid of them so they do no longer pose a risk to any of the youth in your life or, to the roughly 10 percent of Washington residents who are currently thinking about suicide?

The truth is, we don’t have good answers to these questions. There are barriers to drug disposal in communities across our state. Grinding medications in kitty litter can’t be the solution for our communities and our kids. 

There is huge demand for a drug take-back program. I have witnessed this firsthand. For example, recently at the University of Washington, we organized a drug take-back day to coincide with a suicide prevention awareness walk on the campus.  With very little marketing on the part of the walk organizers and the University of Washington Police Department (UWPD), a large bin of unwanted prescription medications was filled by individuals who attended the walk.

In my opinion, the industry needs to be proactive in becoming a bigger part of the solution. What are their solutions to address access to medications for those for whom they are not prescribed? What are their solutions to address the excess of prescription medications available in communities across Washington if not, to fund a drug take-back program?

Given the pharmaceutical industry’s high profit margin in our state, it is time we also held industry accountable for being a part of the solution to ending the epidemic of suicide and drug abuse in our state.

Please ask: What is the pharmaceutical industry doing to educate the public and to reduce barriers to: 1) Disposing of medications they don’t use?; and 2) Preventing access to medications for individuals they are not intended for, including those who are at-risk for suicide?

As our legislators, please demand solutions to protect public safety. A drug take-back program is an important one that will save lives.”

– By Jennifer Stuber, Ph.D.