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Alameda County may require pharmaceutical firms to pay for prescription drug disposal
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OAKLAND  (AP) — A proposed county ordinance in Northern California puts the pharmaceutical industry on the hook for not only making drugs, but also getting rid of them.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors plans to vote Tuesday on the Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance, requiring drug makers to pay for programs to dispose of expired and unused drugs.

Government and industry officials said the ordinance would be the first of its kind nationwide.

Advocates for the law said that unused drugs pose a danger to the environment and people's health. Critics say no evidence shows drug take-back programs help the environment or curb drug abuse.

Supervisor Nate Miley, who introduced the ordinance, said Monday that his constituents have complained of unused pills leading to accidental overdoses, ending up in the hands of children and entering the water supply.

Clean Water Action officials said it's unclear how much of an impact the drugs in water have, but the government should not take any chances.

"You don't put something in the water if you don't know what it's going to do," Jennifer Clary, a water policy analyst with the group, said Monday.

Alameda County residents can currently drop off their old medications at 28 different spots as officials estimate that it costs the county about $330,000 a year. The bill's proponents said other manufacturers take responsibility for disposing their products, such as certain batteries and paint, and drug companies should join their lead.

"We need to say you need to take corporate responsibility and deal with your products, and it shouldn't be something the taxpayers have to pay," Miley said.

Industry representatives said there is no evidence showing similar disposal programs in place in Europe and Canada reduce the presence of drugs in water. They also said the proposed bill unfairly places the costs of drug disposal only on drug manufacturers.

"It would be sort of like Boston asking rice farmers in central California valley to pay the cost of garbage disposal because the trash has rice in it," Marjorie Powell, a representative of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said Monday.

Powell added that the safest, and cheapest, way to get rid of old medication is to just put in the trash in a sealed container mixed with substances like coffee grounds or kitty litter.

Although that method is approved by the FDA, advocates say putting drugs in landfills risks chemicals seeping into the waterbed, which the drug industry said existing safeguards prevent.

The pharmaceutical industry already is voluntarily paying for a similar drug disposal plan in San Francisco, in what officials call an effort to test the effectiveness of such plans.