LA Public Health gives voluntary drug take-back program an F


Listen to story

Download this story 0MB

Los Angeles County's interim health officer says the pharmaceutical industry is not following the County board of supervisors’ recommendations regarding a voluntary drug and "sharps" take-back campaign, and he's advising the board to return to an earlier idea: a mandate that drug makers design and pay for a broad network of drop-off locations.

In a presentation Tuesday to the supervisors, Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the Department of Public Health’s interim health officer, gave the pharmaceutical industry an "F" for what he described as its failure to follow the board’s guidance.

A spokesman for the five medical device and pharmaceutical trade associations involved in the campaign said they’re working on implementing all elements of the board's plan. 

Earlier this year, the board was considering adopting an ordinance that would have required drug makers to design and pay for a system of drop-off points for unused medications and old needles, lancets and other sharps. After strong industry resistance, the board voted in June to let the drug firms pursue a public education campaign and host quarterly take-back events in all five supervisorial districts that would reach "a minimum of ten unincorporated area communities."

The drug trade groups launched their outreach campaign last month, without the required approval from the public health department, said Gunzenhauser. 

The campaign directs the public to the MyOldMeds Los Angeles website, which highlights existing disposal resources in the county – including at sheriff's department stations – but does not provide any additional take-back sites.

The health director said the industry had not followed through on its promise to remove any references on the website to in-home disposal, which the county discourages. The federal government only recommends in-home disposal for certain extremely dangerous medications.

Gunzenhauser said there also is a dispute over what role the trade groups can take with regard to hosting take-back events.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis voiced similar concerns about the drug makers' performance last month.

After hearing Gunzenhauser's presentation Tuesday, Solis said "it's time that we start to really hold some people accountable."

Kuehl said it was her opinion that the drug industry is not interested in carrying out the board's recommendations, and said she will work on putting together "a very strong ordinance."

Denis Wolcott, spokesman for the pharmaceutical associations, said the industry is still in the early stages of implementing the county's recommendations. He said it has, in fact, targeted the county’s unincorporated communities with its advertisements and social media messages.

"We feel pretty confident that if we continue to work with the county like we have, any misunderstanding that we have will be cleared up soon," he said.