San Francisco may require drug companies to dispose of unwanted drugs 

Some city leaders are calling on drug companies to start disposing of unwanted medicine to prevent abuse and environmental impacts.

Five years ago, The City was on the verge of mandating that drug manufacturers operate a drug take-back program, but the effort was pulled back amid opposition from the drug industry. Officials instead opted to run a pilot program, which has been operated by The City for the past three years, with less than half of its costs funded by the industry.

Board of Supervisors President London Breed has now introduced legislation that would impose the disposal mandate on drug-manufacturing companies whose products are sold in San Francisco. It is the latest initiative debated by the Board of Supervisors that takes aim at a major industry, as it is known to do from time to time with varying success. Other measures have included restricting gun sales, banning yellow pages, banning single-use plastic bags and requiring cellphones to come with a health risk label.

"We may not be able to prevent every accidental poisoning or remove all chemicals from the Bay, but we can do something to help," Breed said.

The legislation will require drug manufacturers to fund and operate drug take-back programs under the supervision of The City. Similar programs exist "throughout Europe, Colombia, Brazil and directly to our north and south in Canada and Mexico," Breed said, noting that the cost of such a program in San Francisco is estimated at about $500,000 annually.

If approved by the Board of Supervisors on March 10, The City would follow other counties that have already approved such mandates. Alameda County became the first in the United States to approve a drug take-back mandate in July 2012, but was sued by the pharmaceutical industry that argued it was unconstitutional by regulating interstate commerce.

Kings County followed with a drug take-back law in June 2013 and was also sued.

In September, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled against the drug industry in the Alameda case. The industry has requested the U.S. Supreme Court review the case.

There would be at least five drop-off locations provided in each of the 11 supervisorial districts, or 55 sites, and people may also be able to use prepaid envelopes to mail in the substances, Breed said.

The three-year pilot program, which includes 12 independent pharmacies, one community center, and 10 police stations, has collected 23.5 tons of medicine. Drugs taken back under the programs are incinerated.

"We know enough to know that it works," Debbie Raphael, director of the Department of the Environment, said of the drug take-back program. "We need a way to make sure that this is funded for the foreseeable future."

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