Alameda County Passes First Pharmaceutical Drug Disposal Ordinance In The Country

The Alameda Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the nation’s first ever pharmaceutical drug disposal ordinance Tuesday that will require the pharmaceutical industry to provide disposal units for consumers to drop off of their unused or unwanted pharmaceutical drugs. The ordinance is a landmark because it is the first take back program of its kind in the United States. It has seen health, environmental and youth agencies as well as political officials such as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. come out in support of the ordinance.

Advocates have argued that it will reduce pharmaceutical waste in the waterways and the disposal opportunity will reduce drug availability in homes for teens to access. “I am proud that we’ve found a more sustainable policy solution that promotes good will and corporate social responsibility,” said Supervisor Nate Miley, president of the Alameda Board of Supervisors, in a statement released Tuesday. “The community’s growing demand for more permanent and convenient medication disposal sites goes far beyond what the County can fund and operate on its own.”

Undersheriff for the Alameda Sheriff’s Department, Rich Lucia, spoke of the sheriff department’s drop off box at the Eden Township Substation first established in 2010 and since then roped in 1,400 pounds of unwanted medication; a number that Lucia touts as positive evidence for take back programs. But the cost would run to about $600,000 a year for Alameda County, according to Lucia.
“This ordinance is a fairly cost effective way to deal with this and possibly a model for the rest of the country,” said Lucia.

The ordinance aims to push the weight of cost off of local government and into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry whose wealth is among some of the highest in the country. But according to opponent Ritchard Engelhardt of BayBio; an independent, non-profit trade association serving the life science industry in Northern California, the chance of the ordinance spreading and generation of different regulations would create a quagmire of confusing costs and inefficiencies.

Engelhardt advocates for something more straight forward and across the board rather than an ordinance that could spark many different forms of ordinances. According to Engelhardt some pharmaceutical companies have estimated the drug disposal ordinance could cost up to a million dollars although the data is unavailable for public viewing and the estimation differs greatly from the County’s estimates.

Engelhardt had also previously stated that the environmental impact would not be thwarted by the ordinance stating that most traces of pharmaceutical drugs are found in human excrement rather than actual improper drug disposal, according to peer reviewed studies cited by BayBio. Opponents have also argued personal responsibility of civilians to keep the drugs out of the hands of teenagers to minimize drug experimentation and possible harm.

The supervisors rejected these arguments during the first reading of the ordinance on July 10, arguing that action to stunt teenage experimentation and potential environmental degradation is better than no action at all and invited the pharmaceutical industry to work with the public sector in further improving the ordinance to deal with the stated issues that both opponents and proponents agreed did exist. “The scarcity of medication collection sites has led residents to stockpile drugs in their homes, throw medications in the trash or flush them down the toilet- all of which have public health, safety and environmental risks,” according to the supervisor’s Tuesday press release.

The supervisors were contacted for further comment but have not returned phone calls at this time.

Talk of the pharmaceutical industry suing the county has been of the supervisors’ concern but it’s been uncertain if a lawsuit would be pursued. According to Engelhardt the industry would have to calculate if they can comply with the ordinance as written but admits to “not hearing anyone moving on the legal side of things at this point in time.”