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Alameda county to vote on medication disposal bill

Posted: July 24, 2012 4:00 a.m.
Updated: July 24, 2012 4:00 a.m.
This Friday photo shows a bin to dispose of unwanted or expired drugs at United Pharmacy in Berkeley. This Friday photo shows a bin to dispose of unwanted or expired drugs at United Pharmacy in Berkeley.
This Friday photo shows a bin to dispose of unwanted or expired drugs at United Pharmacy in Berkeley.

OAKLAND (AP) — A proposed ordinance that would put the pharmaceutical industry on the hook for not only making drugs, but also getting rid of them, is scheduled to be taken up by California's Alameda County on Tuesday.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors plans to vote on an ordinance that would require drug makers to pay for programs to dispose of expired and unused drugs. Government and industry officials said the ordinance would be the first of its kind nationwide.

Advocates for the law said that unused drugs pose a danger to the environment and people's health. Critics say no evidence shows drug take-back programs help the environment or curb drug abuse.

Supervisor Nate Miley, who introduced the ordinance, said Monday that his constituents have complained of unused pills leading to accidental overdoses, ending up in the hands of children and entering the water supply.

Alameda County residents currently can drop off their old medications at 28 different spots at a cost of about $330,000 a year, officials estimated. The bill's proponents said other manufacturers take responsibility for disposing their products, such as certain batteries and paint, and that drug companies should join their lead.

"We need to say, 'You need to take corporate responsibility and deal with your products,' and it shouldn't be something the taxpayers have to pay," Miley said.

Industry representatives said the proposed bill unfairly places the costs of drug disposal only on manufacturers.

"It would be sort of like Boston asking rice farmers in central California valley to pay the cost of garbage disposal because the trash has rice in it," Marjorie Powell, a representative of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said.

Powell added that the safest, and cheapest, way to get rid of old medication is to put in the trash in a sealed container mixed with substances like coffee grounds or kitty litter. Although that method is approved by the FDA, advocates say putting drugs in landfills risks chemicals seeping into the waterbed, which the drug industry said existing safeguards prevent.

Clean Water Action officials said it's unclear how much of an impact the drugs in water have, but that the government should not take any chances.

"You don't put something in the water if you don't know what it's going to do," Jennifer Clary, a water policy analyst with the group, said Monday.

Industry representatives said there is no evidence showing similar disposal programs in place in Europe and Canada reduce the presence of drugs in water. The pharmaceutical industry already is voluntarily paying for a similar drug disposal plan in San Francisco, in what officials call an effort to test the effectiveness of such plans.


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