OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to pass the nation’s first ordinance requiring drug makers to pay for programs to dispose of expired and unused drugs.
Board of Supervisors President Nate Miley said the ordinance is needed because the improper and careless disposal of prescription drugs and the illegal resale of prescription drugs puts members of the public, particularly children and the elderly, at risk of being poisoned.
In passing the measure, the board said another reason for the ordinance is that groundwater and drinking water “are being contaminated by unwanted, leftover or expired prescription drugs passing through our wastewater and treatment centers.”
The ordinance requires drug manufacturers and producers to pay for the disposal of their products or face fines of up to $1,000 a day.
Alameda County residents currently can drop off their old medications at 28 drop-off locations but the program costs the county about $330,000 a year.
Miley said he thinks drug companies can afford to pay for the cost of disposing drugs because they generate $186 million in profits annually in the county. He said the projected cost of a comprehensive producer-funded program is about 1 cent of every $3 worth of pharmaceuticals sold in the county.
Miley said there currently aren’t any mandatory state or federal programs to safely collect unwanted drugs and properly dispose of them but he believes “safe and convenient medical disposal programs are one of the most effective solutions in preventing negative individual and environmental health impacts.”
Ariu Levi, the director of the Alameda County Department of Public Health, said the county plans to enforce the ordinance by developing a registry of drug products sold in the county and tracking them to the companies that make them.
“One of the challenges is figuring out who the producers are,” he said.
Levi said it will be up to each drug producer to create “a stewardship plan” for disposing of drugs but he said he hopes that the industry come up with one plan instead of having each company come up with its own plan.
He said he hopes drug makers will voluntarily comply with the ordinance but if they don’t the county will ask the district attorney’s office to enforce compliance.
Ritchard Engelhardt, the vice president of BayBio, a South San Francisco-based advocacy group for the life sciences industry in Northern California, said his organization won’t challenge the legality of the ordinance but he said some individual companies might do so on their own.
Engelhardt said he thinks the ordinance is “ill-advised” because it won’t address the county’s goals of improving water quality and preventing the diversion of drugs for illicit use.
He said, “We know from the European experience, where several countries have had mandatory drug-takeback programs for years, that there has been no reduction of trace pharmaceuticals in waterways, which are almost wholly the result of human waste.”
Engelhardt said, “As representatives of the life sciences industry, we urged the county to wait for guidance from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency on community takeback programs, which is expected later this year.”
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry group based in Washington, D.C., said in a prepared statement that it also opposes the ordinance, alleging that its sets “a dangerous precedent for a community that is currently served by multiple safe medicine collection efforts.”
The pharmaceutical group said, “The creation of multiple take-back programs within Alameda County would increase—not decrease—the environmental effects of medicine disposal while simultaneously increasing the risk that such medicines could be abused or misused by their collection at public sites.”
The industry organization said, “The ordinance is confusing, duplicative and unnecessarily burdensome on both patients and the environment when clear, safe home disposal methods are already available.”
It added that the ordinance will increase the cost of medicines because “significant costs will be incurred which are likely to be added to the cost of drug distribution.”
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