California county orders drugmakers to pay for drug disposal

A California county has breached a wall of resistance from the pharmaceutical industry to paying for programs for the disposal of drugs. 

In what has been described as "setting a national precedent," the Alameda County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance requiring pharma companies to implement their own drug disposal programs, according to the Oakland Tribune. The motion will take the financial burden off the local government and taxpayers. Alameda County currently has its own system where residents can rid themselves of unwanted meds at 28 different locations. That costs the county $330,000 a year and county supervisors say "profitable" pharma companies should foot the bill, according to The Associated Press.

Further, proponents argue that pharmaceutical residue winds up in the local water supply when unwanted drugs are flushed away and they say that unused drugs can be the source of prescription drug abuse.

The trade group PhRMA says disposal programs are not going to stop abuse.

"This ordinance isn't going to have any effect on abuse of prescription drugs," PhRMA rep Marjorie Powell told the AP. "It's going to take a whole lot of other activities to convince people not to abuse prescription drugs."

Not surprisingly, drugmakers aren't keen on the new law, which they call "vague," as the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Pharma companies will have until July 1 to submit their disposal program plans to the county, otherwise, they'll face up to $1,000 a day in fines for failing to follow through.

The FDA recommends mixing unwanted meds in a sealed container with kitty litter or coffee grounds and throwing them out with household trash. But government-supported drug disposal programs are somewhat common in California, evident in San Mateo, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties, according to the Tribune. Drug company-supported programs, however, are few and far between, though a pharma-funded system in British Columbia, Canada, can serve as a benchmark. Stateside, the pharma industry announced plans for a program in San Francisco, an experiment of sorts to see how well it works.

- read more from the AP
- get the scoop from the Chronicle
- learn some more from the Tribune