Industry faces having to fund drug-disposal program

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More than 30 tons of unused pharmaceuticals were left for disposal at sites in the San Francisco Bay Area in a year's time, and one county intends to make the industry pay for that privilege in the near future. 

Alameda County is poised to pass a law that would require pharmaceutical companies to pay for the cost of a disposal program to be overseen by the county's environmental health department. It is a small breach in the industry's wall against having to pick up such expenses, but given that kind of program could morph into a national movement, it's no surprise industry is not pleased.

The reasons Alameda County officials give for having a program mirror those discussed elsewhere include concern over juveniles getting their hands on prescription drugs, as well as the potential environmental impact of pharmaceuticals being dumped in drains and ending up in the water supply. Anyone who has gone through a medicine cabinet after a parent's death has some idea of how much unused medication one person can generate, including such addictive drugs as OxyContin.

PhRMA did not respond to a request for comment. However, in other instances in which such programs have been proposed, the group has said there is no proof take-back programs actually address addiction or environmental concerns, and people instead should be educated to safely dispose of drugs in the trash.

The Bay Area has had a program for several years in which residents can drop off medications at about 130 locations. In fiscal 2009, it collected 60,000 lbs. of medications. But the cost of the program is borne by jurisdictions, and with budgets tight, Alameda is saying it is time for industry to step up.

Other countries, including Canada, France, Spain and Portugal, require manufacturers to dispose of their leftover products. But efforts in Congress and at the state level in California to mandate the practice have so far been rebuffed, the San Jose Mercury News points out. 

If the measure passes March 13 as anticipated, pharma companies would have to propose a program by the end of the year that covers safe disposal of over-the-counter, generic and branded drugs. There would be a public hearing, and whatever program was landed on would be overseen by the county and paid for by the industry. The measure says drugmakers can't pass the cost on to consumers, and any company failing to play by the rules could be fined $1,000 a day and face misdemeanor charges.

- get the Mercury News story
- here's the proposed ordinance (.pdf)

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