Drugmakers ask Supreme Court to squelch California drug takeback law

Drugmakers have taken the ultimate legal step in an effort to stop a California county from forcing them to pay for its drug disposal program. They are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their plea that it is just not right to make them bear the cost.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Generic Pharmaceutical Association (GPhA) and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) on Dec. 29 filed their writ of certiorari, asking the Supreme Court to decide if the county provision violates interstate commerce. They took the step after the federal appeals court in San Francisco in September upheld the ordinance from Alameda County that the groups have been fighting for several years.

The program, which accepts and destroys unused medicines, was started by the county out of concern that juveniles could get 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. The county has been paying for it for several years, with about $200,000 in donations from some drugmakers. Besides having the industry take over the $400,000 or so cost to run the program, the ordinance prohibits drug companies from implementing any kind of surcharge that would shift the cost back to consumers.

A PhRMA spokesperson on Wednesday confirmed the filing but said the groups had no comment. In the past, they have said: "This proposed approach is impractical, inefficient and reflects an attempt on the part of the county to directly, significantly, and unconstitutionally regulate companies whose connection with Alameda is nothing more than having introduced federally approved products into interstate commerce."

The trade groups were successful last year in stopping proposed legislation that would have created a statewide program in California. But Alameda's success has inspired other local efforts. PhRMA is fighting a law in King County in Washington state that is modeled on the Alameda law and San Francisco has been considering it own measure.

- here's the filing