Is pioneering prescription drug takeback law the right cure?

Officials in Alameda County, California are breaking new ground when it comes to the environmentally safe disposal of all those old drugs gathering dust in your medicine cabinet.

The county has unanimously passed a policy -- the first in the nation by a local government -- requiring pharmaceutical companies to pay for the collection and disposal of unused and expired medications.

“I am proud that we’ve found a more sustainable policy solution that promotes good will and corporate social responsibility,” said Nate Miley, president of the county’s board of supervisors in a prepared statement.  “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.”

There's been growing concern over the improper disposal of prescription drugs. Along with worries about their illicit use, residues from these medications are finding their way into landfills and water tables. "Most drugs are not completely absorbed or metabolized by the body," said environmental assessment expert Raanan Bloom on the FDA's web site, "and enter the environment after passing through waste water treatment plants."

Alameda county currently has 28 sites where residents can drop off their old and unwanted prescription drugs -- at an estimated local government cost of about $330,000 per year. County officials estimate their program would add about one cent for every $33 of meds sold.

The county’s program is getting strong support from other communities in the Bay Area. “This ordinance is the low hanging fruit that gives us something that we can do now to help avoid medication waste from getting into our environment at the source,’’ said Andria Ventura, Program Manager at Clean Water Action in San Francisco. “It makes financial, environmental and social sense.”

Photo of pills by PhotoStock10 via Shutterstock.

Next page: Growing interest, pushback from the industry