Washington County Passes Drug Take-Back Program

By: Jennifer Kalish

The Board of Health in King County, Wash., is moving ahead with the nation's second municipal mandate that pharmaceutical companies pay for the safe disposal of leftover and expired medicines.

The board passed a medicine take-back law that covers both prescription and over-the-counter varieties with the goal of protecting public health and the environment.

Expired or leftover medicines have been linked to increasing rates of poisonings and drug abuse while the hazardous chemicals in medicine concern waste managers, water quality professionals and environmental advocates.

Pharmaceuticals thrown in the trash can find their way into the environment through landfill leachate. For example, the Cedar Hills landfill in Maple Valley, Wash., generates 200 million gallons a year of leachate that contains chemicals that seep out of the garbage. Although the leachate is pumped into a sewage treatment plant, the facility isn't designed to remove complex chemicals before releasing effluent into Puget Sound.

Alameda County, Calif., passed the first U.S.drug take-back and disposal ordinance in July 2012 and it was met with a legal challenge by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, which claimed the local law was unconstitutional.

However, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg recently dismissed the case, saying the Alameda ordinance doesn't discriminate against any prescription drug manufacturers and treats them all equally.

King County's new law will provide residents with more drop-off sites and other options for safe disposal of leftover medicines. There will be no cost to users of the take-back program. County officials estimate the cost of the medicine return system will amount to a few pennies per prescription to the drug manufacturers but ultimately will depend on how the drug companies design the program and on the amount of medicines collected.

Annual sales of medicines in King County are more than $1.1 billion per year, according to the county health officials. They say participation in the voluntary take-back programs in place at 24 pharmacies and 11 law enforcement offices underscores the public's interest in safe disposal. The programs have collected 68,000 pounds of medicine since 2010.

*For more information go to www.wasterecyclingnews.com

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