Health

LA County looks to make drug companies pay for disposal of old meds and needles

The proposed draft ordinance would require drug makers to devise a plan to pay for the disposal of old or unused prescription medicines in people's homes.
The proposed draft ordinance would require drug makers to devise a plan to pay for the disposal of old or unused prescription medicines in people's homes.
Stephanie O'Neill

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Los Angeles County public health officials are seeking public comment Friday afternoon on a draft ordinance that would require drug makers to develop a plan to pay for collecting and disposing of unused medicines, needles and other sharp medical devices in people's homes. 

So far, five Northern California counties - Alameda, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara - have adopted similar laws, as has Kings County in Washington. 

L.A. County’s proposed ordinance, drafted by the Department of Public Health, would go a step further by requiring drug manufacturers to also pay for the collection of sharp devices, such as used needles or lancets for blood sugar testing.

These devices often wind up improperly dumped in the trash, where they pose the risk of accidental needle sticks that can spread blood-borne diseases, according to county public health officials. 

The intention behind so-called drug "take-back" laws is two fold. First, to keep people from putting their unused medications in the garbage or down the toilet where they contaminate the environment - including  streams and drinking water supplies. 

The other goal is to cut the number of prescription drug overdoses, says Angelo Bellomo, L.A. County Department of Public Health's deputy director of health protection.  Bellomo says about 75 percent of county residents who misuse prescription drugs get them from relatives or friends. 

L.A.’s draft ordinance, which calls on pharmaceutical firms to design a program that would require approval by the Board of Supervisors - is opposed by the drug industry.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a national trade association, considers take-back ordinances "unnecessary and redundant," says spokeswoman Priscilla VanderVeer. 

"The biopharmaceutical industry has long been engaged in consumer education about the safe use, storage and disposal of our products," VanderVeer told KPCC. "There is no rationale for mandating new, costly and redundant take-back programs when voluntary in-home disposal has repeatedly been shown to be effective, ecologically sustainable, secure, more convenient and less costly for patients."

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a drug industry challenge to a similar law in Alameda County.