Alameda County BOS adopts responsible producer ordinance requiring pharmaceutical companies to foot the bill for costs associated with safe disposal.

San Francisco Chronicle, Michael Macor/Associated Press – This Friday July 20, 2012 photo shows a bin to dispose of unwanted or expired drugs at United Pharmacy in Berkeley, Calif. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Tuesday, July 24, 2012 on an ordinance requiring drug companies to pay for a program to safely collect and dispose of unused medication. Failure to adhere to the ordinance, which is believed to be first of its kind in the nation, could cost drug makers $1,000 a day in fines.By Associated Press, Published: July 24

SAN FRANCISCO — A Northern California county voted Tuesday to make the pharmaceutical industry pay to dispose of unused prescription drugs.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously 5-0 to approve an ordinance that requires drug makers to set up programs to dispose of expired and unused drugs, making it the first county to do so, industry and government officials said.

“It is time … for pharmaceutical companies who are among the most profitable companies in the U.S. to share responsibility for the impact, possible negative impacts, of their products,” said Supervisor Wilma Chan on Tuesday.

Alameda County residents currently can drop off their old medications at 28 different spots at a cost of about $330,000 a year to the county, officials estimate. The bill’s proponents say drug companies should take responsibility for the dangers posed by their unused pills, such as contaminating the water supply or leading to prescription drug abuse.

“This ordinance isn’t going to have any effect on abuse of prescription drugs,” said Marjorie Powell, a representative of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, after the vote. “It’s going to take a whole lot other activities to convince people not to abuse prescription drugs.”

Pharmaceutical industry representatives also say that there is no evidence showing drug take-back programs help the environment and that the ordinance unfairly places the costs of drug disposal only on out-of-county manufacturers.

They say the safest, and cheapest, FDA-approved way to get rid of old medication is to put in the trash in a sealed container mixed with substances such as coffee grounds or kitty litter. Advocates say putting drugs in landfills risks chemicals seeping into the waterbed.

The pharmaceutical industry is voluntarily paying for a similar drug disposal plan in San Francisco to test its effectiveness.

Powell said she questions whether the requirement falls within the county’s authority, but her organization has not considered a legal challenge yet.

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