Who Should Pay for Drug "Take-Back" Programs?

By McCarton Ackerman 12/07/12

Drug makers are challenging a new California law that would require distributers to fund take-back programs for unused meds.

Who is responsible for unused drugs?
Photo via

California pharmaceutical companies are teaming up in the hopes of overturning a ruling in Alameda County, California that will require them to run—and pay for—a program for consumers to turn in unused medicines for proper disposal. Drug "take-back" programs, in which unused pharmaceuticals are dropped off and collected at public locations, have gained popularity across the country. Leaving unused prescription drugs in the home is considered a health and public safety hazard, especially given the country's growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse. Local and government agencies have primarily been paying for take-back programs, but there is now an increasing call to make pharmaceutical companies pay for these services. "We feel the industry that profits from the sales of these products should have the financial responsibility for proper management and disposal,” said Miriam Gordon, California director of Clean Water Action, an advocacy group. Drug companies in Alameda County are now being required to submit plans for implementation by July 2013, but the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) plans to file a lawsuit today in the hopes of getting the law overturned.

James M. Spears, general counsel of PhRMA, said the ruling is a constitutional violation because local government is interfering with interstate commerce, a right usually reserved for Congress. “They are telling a company in New Jersey that you have to come in and design and implement and pay for a municipal service in California,” he said. “This program is one where the cost is shifted to companies and individuals who are not located in Alameda County and who won’t be served by it.” Legislators in seven states have introduced similar bills in recent years, while the pharmaceutical industry already pays for take-back programs in some countries like Canada. The take-back program in British Columbia, with a population of four million, costs $500,000 per year. However, Spears said disposing of drugs at take-back locations may not be the best option because it adds travel time for consumers and the collection points could become a target for thieves and addicts. He recommends tying up unused pills in a plastic bag and throwing them in the trash.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.