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Guest Opinion: Citrus Heights lacks safe disposal spots for unused drugs

Editor’s Note: This opinion piece refers to the city council recently purchasing secured pill bottles for residents. While the city is helping distribute the bottle locks, the funding came through a $6,000 grant secured by Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost, as previously reported in The Sentinel on Jan. 13th. Vice Mayor Jeannie Bruins has also responded to this opinion piece in a letter to the editor.

Guest opinion by David Warren–
The insidious proliferation of substance abuse and drug pollution is the silent killer of our community. Any resident having had the unfortunate experience of visiting the Mercy San Juan Hospital emergency room, a park, or shopping center has observed the consequence of substance abuse.

David Warren

We rarely think about the taxpayer’s cost of substance abuse and pollution such as the un-reimbursed costs of transportation by ambulance and paramedics after an overdose, an assault or an automobile accident, or the time spent by Citrus Heights police officers dealing with individuals under the influence. Those expenditures pale in comparison to the deterioration of real estate value caused by graffiti painted on walls, drug sales on street corners, the palpable sense of fear, real or imagined, in neighborhoods where sales take place, and the increased pollution treatment cost of water and trash.

No one ever says “I like to pay taxes.” Taxes to pay for more municipal services means a significant value and benefit in the form of maintenance of property values and peace of mind because of the reduction of substance abuse, reduced property damage/theft loss and the number of both drug purchasers and sellers on our streets. Yet, an insidious form of tax is that imposed upon us by government failing to adequately address substance abuse and pollution problems.

The City Council purchased a significant number of “secured” pill bottles for distribution to residents in an effort to reduce substance abuse. Although perhaps well meaning, the minimal benefit was not sufficiently considered.

Related: Citrus Heights offering free locks for prescription pills to help curb misuse

Individuals that use strong pain medication typically require care givers to remove medications from bottles, i.e., senior citizens, individuals in severe pain from arthritis, cancer, etc. Thus, the secure code to the pill bottle lid is given to those assistants or family members, the very individuals most likely to steal those pain medications. Also, the secure bottles do not address the problem of drug disposal.

Although the City Council will never be able to unilaterally remove all illegal substances from City streets, it can demonstrate municipal leadership by amending the business license ordinance to require businesses which sell prescription medications to have a secure disposal box at the location to dispose of unused drugs to prevent illegal and improper use or sale. After all, it is the pharmacies and the pharmaceutical industry which are creating the clear and present danger.

Unfortunately, unlike State and Federal laws which provide for the recovery of batteries, florescent lights, used tires, etc. to prevent pollution, drugs have no such safety provisions. The danger associated with the improper disposal of prescription drugs is not limited to street corner sales or family member abuse, it also includes ground and water pollution.

There is only one secured pharmaceutical disposal box at a Citrus Heights pharmacy, and the City only twice a year participates in a national program of safe disposal. It is human nature because it requires no effort to improperly dispose of drugs by dumping them into the trash or dropping them into the toilet — even while individuals who dispose of drugs via the sewer system or landfills endanger the water supply, perhaps because they do not know what to do with unused pharmaceuticals.

The illegal use, improper storage and irresponsible disposal of drugs is a tax that we pay indirectly. We all pay more for the things we buy because of the increased cost of doing business due to theft along with the repair of structures to remove graffiti and clean up the mess and danger caused by needles which are disposed of improperly. We all pay more for water in order to have it treated to remove all types of drugs which have seeped into the water supply, another indirect tax.

A City Council member told me recently that the reason for not mandating the drug disposal box is that it will discourage business in Citrus Heights. The City Council would rather that we as residents indirectly “pay the tax” in the form of higher prices for goods and services caused by substance abuse and pollution related costs instead of compelling the businesses that are selling the drugs to provide safe and proper disposal.

Why, especially when one of the City Council members wants to be the County Sheriff, is the City offering bottles to store drugs instead of making sure that drugs do not either fall into the wrong hands or are the cause of pollution? Why isn’t the City Council demanding the businesses which sell the drugs pay for their proper disposal?

David Warren is a Citrus Heights resident and legislative advocate at the State Capitol with Taxpayers for Public Safety. He can be reached at

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