Feb. 29, 2012 | A proposed Alameda County ordinance forcing drug companies to offer disposal of unwanted prescription medication passed its initial hurdle Tuesday before the county board of supervisors.

The ordinance backed by Board of Supervisors President Nate Miley would make the county the first in the nation to offer safe disposal of prescription drugs. “This already takes place. It is common practice in other countries,” said Miley, “but the pharmaceutical companies are not adhering to such a practice here in the United States, so here in Alameda County, we want to pass an ordinance that sets national precedent.”

The ordinance would call for pharmaceutical companies doing business in Alameda County to establish and implement a drug disposal program, including outreach to the community. It has enforces a $1,000-per-day penalty on drug companies who fail to comply. A second reading of the proposed ordinance is scheduled for March 13 before becoming law.

As the use of legal prescription medication is skyrocketing, there continues to be vast confusion over how to properly dispose of unused drugs or simply those past their expiration date. For decades, consumers were told to flush unwanted medication down the toilet. However, numerous studies have found the practice leads to an increasing amount of drugs seeping into our water supply.

The existence of medication in your bathrooms, some classified as controlled-substances, area a potentially lethal option for young people, according to testimony Tuesday in Oakland. “They were being hoarded in households and people didn’t know what to do with them,” said Miley.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley says investigations often find teenagers become hooked on prescription drugs found in the home. “When we started investigating these cases, one the things we realized, is that a lot of our youth will take medicine out of the medicine cabinet and put them in bowls and they will have parties and just take whatever is in the bowl,” O’Malley said. “They have no idea what medicine they are taking and some of it has killed our kids.”

She says parents often ask what to do with the medicine in their cabinets. “They say, ‘where can I dispose of it’ and we have to tell them, ‘we don’t have a solution for you.’ That is a road fraught with disaster,” she said. “We say the child’s drug dealer is not the person in a dark alley with drugs inside their overcoat. If you open your medicine cabinets, that’s your children’s drug dealers of today.”

Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern says publicized one-time drop-off areas in Dublin and Ashland have recovered over 50 pounds of prescription drugs and controlled-substance with no questions asked. A permanent drop-off station in unincorporated San Leandro regularly brings in between 20-35 pounds in drugs per week, he said. Ninety-five percent of them of prescription medications, he added, which are then shipped to Utah for disposal.