Supreme Court could weigh local mandates on drug makers

San Francisco has become the first U.S. city to require drug companies to pay for the disposal of their products, even as the issue simmers before the Supreme Court.

The city is now the third locality with such a law, which went into effect Friday, and other counties are eyeing similar steps. The new measures irk drug makers, but they’re also arguing they could lead to requiring all sorts of manufacturers — like makers of tires or batteries— to pay for safe disposal programs.

“These statutes are taking off, we see there’s a movement in California to expand beyond the pharmaceutical industry,” said Mit Spears, general counsel for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

“This is the first time where a county or local government has reached out and forced companies in another state to provide a service to their local residents,” Spears said. Last fall, PhRMA and two other drug associations lost a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit against the first of such laws, this one in Alameda County, California, and the Supreme Court is expected to say next month whether it will hear the case.

Drug disposal programs aren’t new — many localities run them — but until now, drug makers haven’t had to pay for them.

Advocates for the new laws say they’re important for combatting the rising problem of prescription drug abuse and ensuring drugs don’t end up in the water supply when people flush them. Since drug companies profit from selling drugs, they should also shoulder corresponding safety costs, they say.

“Why is it fair to privatize 100 percent of the profits and socialize 100 percent of the costs?” said Heidi Sanborn, director of the California Product Stewardship Council. “These are the same companies that don’t like taxes, don’t want fees, don’t like big government, and we’re offering them a program where they get to write their own regulations.”

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Heidi Sanborn is a panelist at the AC 2015 What2Flush Summit meeting. For information on the summit meeting, click here.

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