Late last month, the Supreme Court took (in)action on an item that could be a potential game changer in the fight to combat prescription drug abuse. Specifically, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case brought to them challenging an ordinance in Alameda County, California that requires pharmaceutical companies pay for the disposal of unused medicines. Both this outcome, and the Alameda ordinance itself, have received little fanfare across the country, but could be a huge game changer when it comes to sustaining and growing prescription drug disposal programs.
The Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance in Alameda County requires that any pharmaceutical company that manufactures and sells pharmaceutical products in the county to create and fund a Product Stewardship Plan. This plan would cover the disposal of the unwanted and unused medicines manufactured and sold in Alameda by the pharmaceutical industry. You can see a sample of some of the plans being submitted and approved at the Alameda County government website. One little piece in the ordinance that is sheer brilliance is a provision that prohibits pharmaceutical companies from adding fees to the sales of their medications. The writers of the ordinance foresaw companies attempting to add fees to recoup their costs for funding these disposal programs. Alameda County is ensuring Big Pharma has some skin in the game.
Here in Maine, we have been running extremely successful medicine disposal programs across the state. It has been a combination of permanent drug disposal boxes in many Maine communities along with the twice-annual drug take-back days, now being coordinated by the Maine Sheriffs Association. However, as successful as these programs have been, they’ve always teetered in a somewhat precarious position as far as sustainability. For over four years, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration coordinated the take-backs nationwide. Along with the national marketing, the real benefit was that they footed the bill for the disposal of the medicines.
From my vantage point as a substance abuse prevention professional, one of the biggest successes of the drug take back program has been the change it has created on a community level. Namely, the change where more and more households have made it a routine to round up and dispose of expired and unwanted medicines in a safe way that doesn’t pollute our waters and harm our environment. This also creates a safer home by reducing sources of drugs for abuse and accidental poisoning. This means that these programs are now services that many Maine households rely upon. It’s imperative that we honor this while growing the number of households that engage in this medicine safety and home safety behavior.
It’s Time for Maine to Lead the Way
Maine has provided great leadership in the US around issues of protecting the environment. Here is a great opportunity to show that leadership again, while also addressing our prescription opiate abuse epidemic. Maine should lead the way and become the first to create and pass a state law requiring pharmaceutical companies to create state product stewardship plans. We already have great community partnerships throughout Maine running great medicine disposal programs. If we could give them reliable, and sustainable resources to fund and grow those programs, just imagine the success we could have.
The reality is, the pharmaceutical companies would never miss the tiny amount of resources they’d need to provide to collect and dispose of these unused medicines in Maine. There have been many attempts to get them to voluntarily come to the table to get these medicines out of our homes. Now, Alameda County and the Supreme Court have given us the tools we need to require their participation. I urge lawmakers to come together with the prevention and environmental communities to craft a pharmaceutical product stewardship policy for Maine. Let’s capitalize on this opportunity now!