Pharma Forced to Get Rid of Unused Medications

Pharma Forced to Get Rid of Unused Medications

February 29th, 2012 // 2:12 pm @

Source: Pharmalot

A county in California took a big step closer yesterday to becoming the first in the nation to require drugmakers to dispose of unused and expired pharmaceuticals that are contaminating drinking water and putting youngsters and seniors at risk. In a 4-to-0 vote, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved a plan that now requires a final vote next month, The Oakland Tribune writes.

The county already operates drop-off boxes in several cities, but drugmakers would be required to finance and operate the collection of unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs under the proposal. “We realize that this is an important step to protect residents and our environment,” District 4 Supervisor Nate Miley, who sponsored the plan, tells the paper. “We want pharmaceutical companies to take responsibility for the entire life span of their products.”

The move comes amid a growing effort by local and state governments to safely dispose of unused prescription drugs lingering in medicine cabinets and dresser drawers. Proponents of various measures charge that flushing meds down the toilet can cause environmental problems, such as tainting drinking water supplies (see this). And leaving drugs, such as painkillers, around the house can also lead to abuse and overdose by teens and adults, who sometimes sell pills.

Unused and expired drugs are “wrought with temptation for kids,” Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley told supervisors, according to the paper. And children are not getting drugs from a dealer in a dark alley, but from medicine cabinets, which Miley called the “drug dealers of today.” As a result, she added that hospital visits for teenage prescription drug abuse between 1993 and 2003 skyrocketed by 207 percent. And Alameda County saw the rate of hospitalizations from unintentional poisonings among adults 60 and older rise by 43 percent between 1998 and 2006.

Meanwhile, local governments are footing the bill. Bay Area residents disposed of more than 60,000 pounds of unwanted pharmaceuticals at 128 sites across nine counties, according to Miley. In Alameda County, residents returned roughly 4,000 pounds of pharmaceuticals. Santa Clara County residents disposed of 19,000 pounds and San Mateo County residents close to 18,000, the paper writes.

However, the pharmaceutical industry, notably PhRMA, BIO and the Consumer Health Products Association, which represents drugmakers that sell over-the-counter meds, have argued that government efforts are not cost effective and lack evidence that diversion would be mitigated. Industry lobbying blocked legislation in California for six years, Wilma Chan, a District 3 Supervisor and former state assemblywoman, told the meeting. A similar proposal, by the way, is again being introduced in the state of Washington (look here).

So what happens next in Alameda County? A final Board of Supervisors vote is scheduled for March 13. Then, drugmakers have until Jan. 1, 2013, to develop a collection and disposal plan and the county will hold a public hearing within 90 days. Industry fees would cover the cost, but drugmakers would not be allowed to pass on the extra cost to customers. The Environmental Health Department can assess fines of up to $1,000 per day for drugmakers that do not comply and worst offenders would face misdemeanor charges, the paper writes.

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