Safe Disposal of Prescription Medications Faces a Cost Barrier

Safe disposal of prescription drugs is turning out to be a costly endeavor, and the pharmaceutical industry seems to want no part of it.

Safe disposal of prescription drugs is turning out to be a costly endeavor, and the pharmaceutical industry seems to want no part of it.

The National Take-Back Initiative, a biannual event coordinated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), was launched in September 2010—a venture meant to allow the safe disposal of prescription medications and avoid misuse as well as unwanted environmental effects—a danger associated with flushing these medications into the water streams. Since then, the DEA has been working with the Congress to install more permanent regulations, such as the Safe and Secure Drug Disposal Act of 2010.

But drug disposal costs money, costs that pharmaceutical manufactures do not want to bear. Local governments—such as Alameda County and the city of San Francisco—have taken the initiative to pass ordinance that requires drug manufacturers who have at least 1 prescription medication or over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for sale in their city or county, to participate in stewardship programs for safe disposal. According to STAT, Alameda County estimated the annual costs at $330,000, while the trade group PhRMA estimated the costs could cross $1 million.

STAT reports that the industry has now brought lobbying to the local level, after the US Supreme Court overruled their objections. A national trade association that represents manufacturers of OTC medications and dietary supplements, started calling residents of Los Angeles County warning them of a tax hike due to the take-back program. Another approach is forcing the local governments to implement a state-run and funded program for the collection and disposal of hazardous waste.

One such bill (Assembly Bill 45), introduced in the California state assembly, was amended in January this year to reflect the changes. Some of the trade groups have proposed to fund a nonprofit organization at $1 million annually over a 5-year period, to educate consumers in California on appropriate handling and disposal of drugs. This is only if local governments commit to managing and funding the actual disposal.

Meanwhile, As You Sow, a nonprofit, recently sent a letter on behalf of 22 investment firms addressing the CEOs of 10 major pharmaceutical companies, to provide shareholders with a policy statement on the take back program. “We hope you will work with industry peers to develop policies leading to a national drug take back program, and provide primary financial responsibility for the program. We believe it’s time for the industry to manage the end of life portion of the product life cycle in the same manner that it manages design and marketing of its goods and services,” the letter states.