Pharmaceutical companies selling drugs in Alameda County would be required to submit plans for incinerating or safely disposing of unused medication under a plan advanced by county officials this week.
The measure, billed by supporters as the first of its kind in the United States, is designed to force pharmaceutical companies to bear the cost of collecting and safely discarding unused prescription drugs that might otherwise foul waterways or fall into the hands of substance abusers.
Officials in Alameda County gave preliminary approval Tuesday to the measure. Representatives of two biomedical industry groups have criticized the proposal.
“This could be a model throughout the country,” County Supervisor Nate Miley said of the proposal.
Alameda County currently operates 21 disposal sites where residents can drop off unused or expired medications.
But Bill Pollock, the county’s household hazardous-waste program manager, estimates the county’s 1.5 million residents still have as much as 681 tons of unwanted drugs stockpiled in medicine cabinets.
The proposed ordinance, which requires a second vote set for later this month, would seek to shift the cost and responsibility for the disposal program to drug manufacturers.
Similar regulations have been enacted in Canada, parts of Europe and Australia, supporters said. Failure to comply could result in civil penalties of up to $1,000 a day and misdemeanor criminal charges punishable by jail time for company executives.