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Is This a Drug Take-Back Revolution?

These programs are more common in suburbs and small towns across the country, which are paid by local government agencies. There is even a National Drug Take-Back Day where thousands of DEA-coordinated collection sites were available across the country. Now the debate is who should pay for the programs?

The city of San Francisco seems to be the spear-head of this one, and it might just be a revolution in drug take-back programs. The Board of Supervisors for the city already voted last week for an ordinance for a drug take-back program, which ended up being unanimously approved. This would make San Francisco the first major American city to have its own drug take-back program. Now the only thing standing between the programs becoming law is the signature of Mayor Edwin Lee.

So far this new ordinance follows in the fashion of a similar law passed three years ago by nearby Alameda County, which was opposed openly by Big Pharma, and sparked the debate on how drug take-back programs should go.

What is Drug Take-Back Program?

A drug take-back program is designed to set up designated locations that can be used for people to collectively and safely discard all of their unused, expired or unneeded medications.

With prescription drugs being such a huge contribution to the drug addiction and overdose epidemic these days, it is easy to see why drug take-back programs have become an increasingly popular way to dispose of expired or unused medications. Unused prescription medications being left around the house is considered a public healthy safety hazard.

Of course not everyone supports this kind of program. James M. Spears, general counsel of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, believes that mandatory take-back locations add travel time for consumers, as well as expressing the concern that the collection points could become a haven of violence by thieves and addicts.

At What Cost

Take-back programs are frequently applauded for lowering both the risk of drug abuse from an excess of unused medications, and for limiting the contaminants in drinking water. While this makes for good motivation, there is always a question of money. Now more are calling for Big Pharma to be held responsible.

Some municipal and county officials in San Francisco have expressed concern for these programs over the cost to fund them and what financial stress that could put on the city, and officials turned to drug-makers to provide funding.

Guess what happened! I bet you can’t.

YUP, the pharmaceutical industry has fought back to avoid paying. You called it. Big Pharma actually filed a lawsuit last year which argued that the drug take-back program in Alameda County interferes with interstate commerce.

Now even though Big Pharma put up a fight, last September a federal appeals court ruled that the ordinance did not place significant costs on interstate business and treated all drug makers equally. Scott Cassel, chief executive at the Product Stewardship Institute, a nonprofit that supports take-back programs, had a lot to say in support of that decision.

“This is a major step forward. The passage of this ordinance amplifies the growing tide of legislation being passed … and holds manufacturers responsible for the post-consumer management of their products.”

In other comments Cassel touch on how the pharmaceutical industry has a long history of fighting this kind of law. He also pointed out that these Big Pharma companies could avoid the cost of contesting it in court if they were just willing to engage in a cooperative dialogue with local governments and nonprofits to create programs “that make economic—and environmental—sense.”

In recent years 7 states have legislators that have introduced similar bills to make the pharmaceutical industry pay for these take-back programs. The industry already finances drug take-back programs throughout Canada. In British Columbia with a population of four million these programs cost $500,000 per year.

Should it be left up to the pharmaceutical companies to provide funding for these take-back programs? It seems the statement that it makes the manufacturers more responsible for the post-consumer management is important. Companies that produce medications toxic to the point they can be lethal should have some accountability when it comes to disposing of the products before they damage the environment, poison animals or add to the addiction epidemic.

Drug take-back programs are making a decent effort to get dangerous prescription drugs out of the hands of the public, but getting addicts the right kind of help goes beyond taking away the drugs to nurturing true growth. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588

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