A groundbreaking law that forces the pharmaceutical industry to pay for collection and disposal of unused drugs passed its final court test and the Alameda County officials who originated the concept predicted it will now spread across the country.
Without comment, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider the industry’s challenge of Alameda County’s law, which is intended to keep drugs out of the bay, the groundwater basin and the hands of abusers. A federal appeals court had earlier upheld the ordinance.
“This was the pharmaceutical industry really trying to put the genie back in the bottle,” said Art Shartsis, an outside attorney who defended a lawsuit filed by the pharmaceutical industry against Alameda County. “This is an innovative ordinance where a county required a particular industry to take responsibility of a post-consumer use that is dangerous to dispose of. I don’t think there was another program like this in the country.”
Shartsis and Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, who authored the law, said similar programs are expected soon in Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties and in King County in Washington state.
The pharmaceutical industry estimated it will have to pay $1.2 million a year in Alameda County alone to follow the law. The county estimated the cost at about $330,000 a year.
“But the cost is really insignificant,” Shartsis said. “It will cost one penny for every $10 in drugs they sell in the county. It’s about as minimal as you can get.”
The plaintiffs in the case, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Generic Pharmaceutical Association and the Biotechnology Industry Organization, argued that the law interfered with the free flow of goods guaranteed in the Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause.
But they weren’t able to find a court to go along. “We won at every stage,” said Alameda County Counsel Donna Ziegler, who added that legal fees were over $500,000. “We’re ecstatic, and we are looking forward as additional jurisdictions follow the lead of Alameda County.”
Ziegler said two plans already have been submitted by pharmaceutical industry groups to collect and destroy the drugs. Those plans are being reviewed by the county department of environmental health, which will oversee the program.
The program run by the pharmaceutical industry in Alameda County will be rolled out over three years, and officials estimate there will be 110 sites for drug collection at police stations, pharmacies and hospitals, funded by the pharmaceutical industry. There are currently 30 drug take-back sites run by the county. For a list of the existing sites, go to http://bit.ly/1EwdzaX.
Miley said he wrote the law at the urging of a now defunct organization that focused on drug abuse. The law also is designed to prevent contamination of the environment when pills and elixirs are flushed down the drain or thrown into garbage cans whose contents end up in landfills. It was modeled on legislation governing the safe disposal of tires, batteries and other potentially harmful goods. It prohibits drug companies from charging fees to pass the costs to local consumers.
“People hold on to drugs and they don’t know what to do with them,” Miley said. The responsibility to dispose of them should be on business, he said. “Taxpayers should not have to pay for this.”
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said the need in the county is great. In September, her office participated in a drug take-back event and collected 799 pounds of pills in one day.
“I have talked to mothers and fathers of children who have become addicted to prescription drugs,” O’Malley said, “and when they run out, they turn to street drugs, and many of those children have died.”
The plaintiffs in the case issued a joint statement Tuesday that said the industry would “continue to actively work to educate consumers on the appropriate use of medicines, including providing information about safeguarding medicines in the home and promoting safe, secure and effective methods for disposal.”
Contra Costa Times