Industry stymies effort to make it fund drug disposal program

Industry has temporarily swatted away the prospects for a California county's program that would have had it pay for the disposal of unused over-the-counter and prescription medications.

Alameda County was on the cusp of approving such an ordinance when opposition from the trade group PhRMA and local business organizations prompted it to postpone final consideration for up to three months, reports the Oakland Tribune.

The Bay Area has a program with nearly 130 drop-off sites that collected 60,000 pounds of medications in 2009. Proponents--including District 4 Supervisor Nate Miley, the force behind the ordinance--are concerned about juveniles getting their hands on prescription drugs, as well as the potential environmental impact of pharmaceuticals being dumped into drains and ending up in the water supply.

Opponents said more pharmaceutical residue ends up in waterways through excrement than from drugs being dumped. Some warned drug companies might not do business in the county if the law passed without explaining how it might work.

In a letter to Miley, PhRMA Deputy Vice President Merrill Jacobs said the Drug Enforcement Agency is drafting rules for take-back programs. Furthermore, without the involvement law enforcement, the Alameda program could be vulnerable to drug diversion from county sites. It also said the program could unintentionally raise the costs of drugs to consumers. 

In a statement sent to FiercePharmaManufacturing, PhRMA said the best way to get rid of leftover medications is to properly dispose of them in the trash. And the best way for that to happen is to educate the public. The statement added PhRMA has developed three simple messages.

"First, people should take mediation as prescribed by your physician or healthcare practitioner; second, consumers should store medicines in a safe manner and should not share them; and finally, it's important to promptly dispose of any unused medicines in safe manner, such as through household trash or an appropriate take back-program...."

It added the industry supports the programs SMARxT Disposal, America's Medicine Chest Challenge and the DEA's National Take Back Day, which incorporate these principles.

What it apparently doesn't support is any program forcing industry to cover the cost of disposing leftover medications. No big surprise industry, which has opposed efforts elsewhere, does not want a precedent. Alameda County estimates a program there would cost $200,000 a year for a county of about 1.5 million people. Los Angeles, by comparison, is 6.5 times larger with 9.8 million.

Miley is undeterred. "We'll come to the table and we'll talk," he said at the meeting. "But at the end of the day, we are going to have a program in place,"

- see the Tribune's story
- check out the PhRMA statement