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.