A bill by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, to create the nation’s first statewide program to dispose of leftover prescription and over-the-counter drugs passed out of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on Wednesday. The vote was 5-1.
The bill is scheduled to be heard next in the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee on April 21.
A response to the growing problem of prescription drug abuse, accidental poisonings and traces of pharmaceuticals found in drinking water, Senate Bill 1014 would require drug manufacturers to create, finance and manage a statewide system for collecting and safely disposing of unwanted prescription drugs that people have in their homes.
The bill is modeled after an Alameda County ordinance that was the first of its kind when it was implemented.
“Every year, billions of dollars in medications is prescribed in California, but as much as 40 to 50 percent of those drugs can end up unused,” Jackson said. “These unused drugs create enormous public health and environmental challenges. We need a better solution than putting them in the garbage or flushing them, where they can get into our water, or leaving them in our medicine cabinets, where they can be taken accidentally or be misused and abused.”
For the past 15 years in British Columbia, Canada, in a program paid for by the pharmaceutical industry, consumers have been able to conveniently dispose of unused drugs in bins located at pharmacies, where they are safely destroyed.
While some safe drug disposal sites do exist in California, there are only 300 to 400 such sites in the state to serve 38 million Californians. This patchwork of programs doesn’t meet public demand and are financed by local governments and ultimately, California taxpayers, Jackson said.
“While a number of local governments have admirably stepped up to establish their own drug take-back programs, it’s the taxpayers who end up footing the bill for this, with no assistance from the multibillion-dollar drug industry,” Jackson said. “We are hoping that the industry will join us in recognizing that we have a problem, and helping to share the responsibility for what happens to these unused medications. We need a more cost-effective, systemic and efficient approach, one that I believe will ultimate end up costing us less than the overall costs we’re paying now.”
The bill is sponsored by the California Product Stewardship Council, Clean Water Action, the California Alliance of Retired Americans, the City and County of San Francisco and Alameda County.
Alameda County was the first local government agency in the country to pass an ordinance requiring drug manufacturers to develop, implement and pay for a drug take-back program. Three pharmaceutical associations responded by suing the county. The county prevailed in trial court and the case is now on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Jackson represents the 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.
— Lisa Gardiner is the communications director for state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson.