Bay City News Service
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today to pass the nation's first ordinance requiring drug makers to pay for programs to dispose of expired and unused drugs.
Board president Nate Miley said the ordinance is needed because the improper and careless disposal of prescription drugs and the illegal re-sale of prescription drugs puts members of the public, particularly children and the elderly, at risk of being poisoned.
The supervisors said another reason for the ordinance is that groundwater and drinking water "are being contaminated by unwanted, leftover or expired prescription drugs passing through our wastewater and treatment centers."
The ordinance requires drug manufacturers and producers to pay for the disposal of their products or face fines of up to $1,000 a day.
Alameda County residents currently can drop off their old medications at 28 drop-off locations, but the program costs the county about $330,000 a year.
Miley said he thinks drug companies can afford to pay for the cost of disposing drugs because they generate $186 million in profits annually in the county. He said the projected cost of a comprehensive producer-funded program is about 1 cent of every $3 worth of pharmaceuticals sold in the county.
Ariu Levi, the director of the Alameda County Department of Public Health, said the county plans to enforce the ordinance by developing a registry of drug products sold in the county and tracking them to the companies that make them.
Ritchard Engelhardt, the vice president of BayBio, a South San Francisco-based advocacy group for the life sciences industry in Northern California, said his organization won't challenge the legality of the ordinance but he said some individual companies might do so on their own.
Engelhardt said he thinks the ordinance is "ill-advised" because it won't address the county's goals of improving water quality and preventing the diversion of drugs for illicit use.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry group based in Washington, D.C., said in a prepared statement that it also opposes the ordinance, saying it sets "a dangerous precedent for a community that is currently served by multiple safe medicine collection efforts."