Who Should Pay for Prescription Drug Disposal?

Government drug experts have found that many teenagers and adults who abuse prescription drugs obtain them from people they know with prescriptions or steal them from the medicine cabinets of family and friends. Starting in 2010, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has held a series of National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days to encourage Americans to safely dispose of unused and unwanted prescription medications. More than 5600 take-back sites have been established, covering all 50 states. The Take-Back program has removed a total of 775 tons of medication from circulation, avoiding the chances of diversion and abuse.


prescription drug drop boxes
Drop Boxes for Prescription Meds
The National Prescription Drug Take-Back program has been so effective that some local jurisdictions have established their own drug drop-off programs. In Alameda County in Northern California, 28 publicly-funded drop locations are available year round for residents to dispose of prescription drugs. Besides keeping prescription drugs out of the hands of people who may abuse them, drug disposal programs like the one in Alameda County protect the environment by keeping drugs out of public water systems. The cost of the program is $330,000 annually.


Although the benefits of the program are obvious, the county found itself struggling with the rising expense as residents requested more drop location. In response to cost concerns, Alameda County recently passed what could be a precedent-setting law. The Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance will require drug makers to pay for the safe collection and disposal by incineration of unused prescription drugs that are sold to county residents. The fine for failing to comply with the law will be $1,000 per day.


The first law of its type in the nation, the Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance has garnered wide support from cities and counties across the nation struggling with the problem of drug disposal. Nat Miley, president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and sponsor of the new ordinance, commented, “It’s time for drug companies to take responsibility for their products and to dispose of leftover drugs they manufacture.


Pharmaceutical companies have a history of refusing to take responsibility for abuse of their products or for their safe disposal. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, drug makers predictably oppose the new Alameda County law, calling it vague, too general and difficult to implement. The law states that each drug company can run its own drug disposal program or work in conjunction with other companies. In addition to providing drug drop-off locations, companies can provide prepaid envelopes that will allow people to return unused drugs to the manufacturer.


Alameda County based its new law on similar legislation in the Canadian province of British Columbia. The drug disposal program in B.C. has been in place since 1997 and involves many of the same manufacturers that will be affected by the Alameda County’s action.


If you have unused prescription drugs that you’d like to dispose of and there are no drop off locations in your community, the FDA recommends flushing them down the toilet or mixing them with coffee grounds or other inedible garbage and placing them in your trash.