Apr 03

Calif. lawmaker wants drug makers to pay for disposal sites – SF Chronicle

By: Stephanie Lee

Pharmaceutical companies would have to pay for the disposal of all unused medicines sold in California under a state bill modeled after an Alameda County program.

The legislation is attempting to curb problems such as prescription drug abuse and accidental poisonings by requiring drug manufacturers to create, carry out and pay for a statewide disposal program for unused and expired medications.

The bill is in its early days – on Wednesday, SB1014 sailed through the state Senate Environmental Quality Committee on a 5-1 vote – but pharmaceutical companies and other business interests are already gearing up for a fight.

When Alameda County passed an ordinance for a drug take-back program in July 2012, then the first law of its kind in the nation, three pharmaceutical associations promptly sued. The same groups then sued King County in Washington when it adopted a similar ordinance the following year.

“Obviously, pharmaceutical companies are very powerful and they spend multimillions of dollars every year lobbying their positions,” said the bill’s author, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. “It’s just my hope they will come and work with us and commit to being better stewards of the environment and public health. We’re just asking that they take responsibility for the disposal of their products.”

Drugs that sit unused in medicine cabinets lead to accidental poisonings, and those that get flushed down the toilet contaminate waterways, Jackson said. The bill’s supporters include public and environmental health groups, waste management agencies, law enforcement and cities.

Jackson’s bill, like Alameda County’s ordinance, is inspired by a British Columbia program run by the industry-formed Post-Consumer Pharmaceutical Stewardship Association. The cost of the program in British Columbia, which has a population of more than 4 million, was an estimated $583,000 in 2012, according to the association.

Expanding the program to California’s 38 million residents could cost roughly $5.2 million to $6.5 million a year, Jackson’s office said.

Drug makers argue that an industry-backed take-back program would make drugs more expensive and be logistically complicated.

“If you were to saddle the industry with a program they need to run, there are a host of federal laws and state laws in California that would require significant regulatory hurdles and a lot of associational costs that simply aren’t accounted for in the Canadian program,” said John Murphy, assistant general counsel to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Supporters of Jackson’s bill, in turn, argue that consumers ultimately pay for the cost of disposal, whether at the time of purchase or through taxes. An industry-run program could be more efficient, they say.

Some California counties already have drug take-back programs. San Francisco runs a limited pilot program backed by pharmaceutical manufacturers. In Alameda County, people can drop off unwanted pills at 31 sites funded by taxpayers. Each site costs about $1,000 to $1,500 a year, according to Bill Pollock, who directs the county’s household hazardous waste program.

A federal judge has rejected the industry’s challenge to Alameda County’s ordinance, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is now considering the case. The law is still in effect for now, and requires companies to turn in plans for take-back programs by May 1.

So far, no plans have been submitted.