Those annual “drug take-back days” that increasing numbers of communities have been holding the past few years have helped get millions of unused prescription drugs out of medicine cabinets and safely disposed of, but once a year isn’t enough: A regular program to dispose of unwanted drugs is needed.
Modern medicines work wonders, but they begin to lose their effectiveness after only a few months in the medicine cabinets. Throwing them in the trash is dangerous if scavengers get their hands on them, or if they wind up in a landfill, where they can contaminate nearby groundwater. Flushing them is dangerous because few sewage treatment plants are capable of rendering them totally inert. And leaving them in the medicine cabinet is an invitation to abuse by some other family member (mostly children or teens) or burglar.
According to a story in Friday’s New York Times, Alameda County in California has passed a law that, beginning next July, will require drug companies to establish and pay for a take-back program. The manufacturers are reportedly suing to block implementation of the law, which they say will cost them millions. But a similar law in British Columbia has cost only $500,000 per year, with drug companies assessed in proportion to their market share. That seems like a fair way to do it.
Bills that would require similar programs to be set up are pending in seven states. The issue isn’t so much who has to pay for them, because if those costs aren’t borne directly by taxpayers, they’ll eventually be passed down to consumers. It’s more a question of whether such programs are a good idea — and it seems abundantly clear that they are. One day a year simply isn’t enough.