April 25, 2018

Commissioner Sharon Meieran (right) speaks at an April 23 press conference as Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (center) and community member Jessica Cardinal look on.

Commissioner Sharon Meieran joined Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici on April 23 in calling for more safe disposal sites for opioids. The two spoke at a press conference in which Rep. Bonamici announced a new bill, The Safe Disposal of Opioids Act (HR 5557), to make it easier to dispose of unused medications.

The bill will create a grant program to help pharmacies and other qualified locations install and maintain drug disposal bins. To hold pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids accountable for their role in the crisis, the bill requires them to fund the grants through a small fee on opioids they sell. On Monday, the Congresswoman also released a report “Fighting for Our Communities: Overcoming the Opioid Crisis.” that found that only 2.5% of pharmacies, hospitals, and others participate in drug disposal programs.

“We should be doing everything we can to prevent addiction, help people access treatment, and reduce the oversupply of prescription drugs that led to this crisis,’’ Congresswoman Bonamici said.

Commissioner Meieran said that as a Kaiser ER doctor and member, “I am proud that Kaiser has drop boxes at our pharmacies. But across our communities and across the United States, there are far too few of these drop boxes available… We need to make it at least as easy to get rid of opioids as it is to get them in the first place!”

Dr. Meieran said that two weeks ago, Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties held the Tri-County Opioid Summit, where experts talked about how adverse childhood experiences are often strongly associated with addiction later in life.

“We also heard about addiction as a chronic relapsing illness, much like congestive heart failure or diabetes. We don’t demean people who suffer from diabetes, and abandon them if it takes a while for them to be able to manage their sugars effectively,’’ Meieran said. “We need to treat people suffering from substance use disorder with the respect and dignity as those who suffer from other chronic illnesses.’’

She said the county sheriffs, DAs, and commissioners attending the summit also learned of the urgent need for better access to medication-assisted treatment as a core strategy to promote recovery from this disease.

But, she said, in addition to these long-term strategies, communities can also act in the short term to decrease the number of prescription opioid pills in circulation.

“This is basic math - how many pills people have access to depends on how many are prescribed, and how many are disposed of,’’ Commissioner Meieran said. “That is why safe and accessible drug disposal is such an essential piece of this puzzle.”

Over the last six months, Bonamici held community discussions in each county she represents to hear directly from local experts and families in the throes of addiction. She toured treatment facilities to speak with people in recovery, and met with parents, health care professionals, community leaders, and veterans.

“As a mom and as a policy maker, I found the stories from people in recovery and about the lives lost to opioid abuse to be heartbreaking,” said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. “We should be doing everything we can to prevent addiction, help people access treatment, and reduce the oversupply of prescription drugs that led to this crisis. In Congress, I’m committed to holding opioid manufacturers accountable, increasing drug disposal options, and securing more resources to help Oregonians cope with the deadly opioid epidemic.”

"As an emergency physician, I've seen so much suffering related to the opioid epidemic,” said Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran. “Congresswoman Bonamici's legislation speaks to the need for straightforward, common-sense solutions.”

“I was young and trying to fit in a new town when I started using pills,” said Jessica Cardinal of McMinnville. “Over time I switched to heroin. Now I’ve been sober for three and a half years, but I’ve gone to more than ten funerals of people who died from addiction in that time. As a recovery mentor helping other people overcome addiction, I know firsthand that we have to increase access to treatment, or people will keep dying from this disease.”

Across Northwest Oregon, Bonamici heard about how difficult it is to dispose of unused prescription drugs.

“Many people have unused medications at home left over after a surgery or illness, and too often those leftover drugs are misused by children, family members, or friends,” Bonamici continued. “Unfortunately, it can be easier to get an opioid prescription than to safely dispose of unused pills. We need to do better. We must make it easy to safely dispose of unused medications.”

The grants provided through the Safe Disposal of Opioids Act will fund about 10,000 disposal sites across the country.