Coalitions in Action: First-Ever Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance Adopted in Northern California
The Alameda County (Calif.) Board of Supervisors this week adopted an ordinance that requires the pharmaceutical industry to pay for a safe medication disposal program for county residents. The Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance is the first of its kind in the nation.
Advocates for the disposal programs such as CADCA coalition member CommPre, a program of Horizon Services, Inc., in Hayward, said the law will save lives by preventing accidental drug overdose and keeping flushed pills from contaminating water.
“We all know that medicines are meant to help, but, in the wrong hands or in our waterways and trash, prescription and over-the-counter drugs contaminate our drinking water and put our youth and seniors at risk for misuse and abuse,” Linda Pratt, Program Director, said.
Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) and attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote compelling letters to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors in support of the ordinance, Pratt told CADCA.
The ordinance is based on a Canadian “producer responsibility” model and does the following:
• The ordinance requires pharmaceutical companies that sell drugs under brand and generic names in Alameda County to establish a producer-financed and managed take-back program, as is done in other countries including Canada, Australia, and France;
• Producers cannot charge visible fees, forcing internalization of costs, to implement the stewardship program so take-back is just a cost of doing business;
• The program must have an outreach and promotion campaign including prominently displayed signage; • Producers must pay an oversight fee to the county
• Controlled substances are excluded from the ordinance for now, awaiting Drug Enforcement Administration findings on the issue;
• Failure to comply allows a maximum penalty of up to $1,000 per day fine
The county operates drop-off boxes in several cities, even operating a “mobile med disposal” system for transportation-challenged seniors, Pratt said, but the ordinance will help pharmaceutical companies to take responsibility for the entire “life span” of their products.
Making drug disposal easier will encourage senior citizens to get rid of expired medications and unneeded drugs, helping to eliminate medication mix-ups, and it will help reduce youth access to prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.
Alameda County saw the rate of hospitalizations from unintentional poisonings among adults 60 and older jump by 43 percent between 1998 and 2006. Nationally, prescriptions for controlled substances increased by 154 percent between 1993 and 2003. Municipal wastewater treatment plants can't keep up. They were designed to treat biological agents in drinking water, not antibiotics, steroids, anti-depressants and pain medications that people throw away or flush. A 2008 Associated Press investigation found pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans in 24 major metropolitan areas.
With persistence from the coalition, including County Supervisor and coalition member, Nate Miley, Pratt said the coalition’s prevention plan included the “three Ps: partnering, promotion, and policy” about two years ago.
The coalition has been partnering with the local waste and water agencies, and had some success focusing on the dangers to the environment, but then utilized the other environmental angle when their county council amended the ordinance to include health and safety findings.
Pratt acknowledges their success, but knows the real work begins now that the ordinance has passed.
“It has been a long time that we have been working on it and we are ecstatic. Right now we are really excited. This is the end of phase one. We’d like to take the time to celebrate. It’s been a long and hard fight and we are ready for phase two, which is hopefully to implement the ordinance, but we are being realistic that we may be in for a fight,” Pratt said.