UPDATED: Bill for California statewide disposal law lands in the trash

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson

Drugmakers have so far been unable to stop an Alameda County, CA, law that requires them to pay for the disposal of unused medicines. They have managed, however, to dissuade lawmakers from making it a statewide requirement.

A bill that would have made drugmakers cover the cost of running the estimated 300 to 400 drug drop-off facilities across California has died in committee, SFGate reports. Author Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, from Santa Barbara, told the publication there just weren't enough votes to move it on but that she intended to give it a shot again next year.

Groups including PhRMA, BIO and the Generic Pharmaceutical Association have been fighting a law passed in Alameda County, across the bay from San Francisco, which requires drugmakers to pick up the tab without imposing a surcharge. It is estimated it would cost about $330,000 a year to fund the program at the county's 28 sites.

But the industry argues it is ill-suited to the task of drug disposal. The way they view it, Alameda County is asking the drug industry to expand beyond its core business into "a combination of municipal waste disposal and local law enforcement." The trade groups argued that since the law prohibits them from covering the cost with a local point-of-sale fee, citizens in the rest of the U.S. will have to foot the bill, making the law unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg of San Francisco disagreed with that position. He ruled last year that the ordinance treats all drug companies the same, whether located in or out of California, and the law serves a legitimate public purpose. The case has since been appealed to the 9th District Court of Appeals, which is slated to hear it this year.

In a statement today, PhRMA said it remains confident in its legal position and maintains its "opposition to take back programs like Alameda County's, which place the entire responsibility on pharmaceutical manufacturers for the execution, finance, management and administration of otherwise municipal operations, and shift the costs and burden of such local programs to out-of-county consumers and companies."

While other jurisdictions around the country have similar programs, this is believed to be the only one in which industry is required to pick up the tab. Pharma has resisted responsibility, given that this kind of program could morph into a national movement and grow the cost exponentially.

- read the SFGate story