Environmental Protection

Counties Adopt Resolution on Unwanted Medicines

The National Association of Counties (NACo), the country's largest local government organization, on July 28 unanimously adopted a policy supporting producer responsibility for unwanted medicines, according to a July 28 press release.

The expense of taking back unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs would be handled by the pharmaceutical industry, without relying on state or local government funding.

There are examples of successful take-back programs in the United States and Canada that benefit the health both of the environment and the population," said Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt of Ramsey County, Minn., who introduced the proposal along with three councilmembers from Washington State. "NACo's adopting a product stewardship policy for the pharmaceutical industry is a great step forward."

The councilmembers from Washington were Dave Somers from Snohomish County and Dow Constantine and Julia Patterson from King County.

According to the resolution, the environmental and social problems created by the storing and disposing of unwanted medicines are numerous and complex. Leftover medicine may play a part in drug abuse and accidental poisonings. Disposing of these medicines by flushing or trash disposal contributes to ground and surface water contamination.

Athens, Ga.-based Product Policy Institute (PPI) helped develop the resolution. The non-profit institute works with local governments to advance comprehensive state policies focused on producer responsibility. Reinhardt is a PPI board member.

NACo attendees heard a presentation from PPI Executive Director Bill Sheehan on a successful program in British Columbia that makes brand-owners of pharmaceutical products sold there responsible for the safe management of unused medicines. Over 93 percent of licensed pharmacies in this province of 4.4 million people collect unused medications, with no fees to consumers, and turn them over to producers.

"The cost of this program in 2008 was a mere $315,000, which was shared by pharmaceutical companies," said Sheehan. "Like Europe and Canada, the U.S. can develop programs to cover the costs of collecting, transporting and disposing of these medicines. It's imperative we do so."

The resolution can be found here.

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