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County Makes Pharmaceutical Companies Responsible for Collection and Disposal of Unwanted Over-the-Counter and Prescription Drugs

County Now Disposes of 35,000 pounds of Unwanted Medications from Residents Yearly
SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF.— Today, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors took the first step toward adopting a Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance requiring pharmaceutical companies that have profited from drugs sold in the county, to design, operate, and fund a program to safely dispose of residents’ unwanted drugs. Since 2008, the County has operated the pharmaceutical drop-off program and collected and disposed of approximately 35,000 pounds of unwanted and expired over-the-counter and prescription drugs from county residents each year.  Now, that responsibility will be placed with the companies that actually profit from these drug sales.
“We are taking decisive action to hold pharmaceutical manufacturers accountable for the safe disposal of over-the-counter and prescription drugs in Santa Clara County,” said President Dave Cortese, County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors. “The new ordinance requiring manufacturer responsibility will make it easier for residents to safely dispose of these medications, helping to reduce risks to health.”
Each year, more than 9,000 young children nationwide are hospitalized after accidentally ingesting prescription drugs. And drug overdose deaths have been rising steadily over the past two decades. Every day in the United States, 113 people die from a drug overdose, and another 6,748 are treated in emergency departments for misuse or abuse of drugs. Nearly nine out of 10 poisoning deaths are caused by drugs. In 2011, 80 percent of the 41,340 drug overdose deaths in the United States were unintentional.   Not only is there harm to individuals, the environment is also harmed by improper disposal.
“Without easy access to proper pharmaceutical disposal, consumers too often throw their unused medicines in the trash or flush them down the toilet.  From there, those drugs end up in our waterways,” said Supervisor Ken Yeager, who proposed the measure.  “We have to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the products they sell.”
Municipal wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove the complex compounds in drugs that end up in the sewer system.  Numerous studies have shown that pharmaceutical compounds in surface waters can harm aquatic organisms, such as, fish; some also indicate that these compounds may encourage growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Many people stockpile pharmaceuticals because they know intuitively they should not flush them down sinks or toilets,” said Robert D’Arcy, Hazardous Materials Program Manager.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from prescription painkillers have reached epidemic levels in the past decade.”
This new program will eventually replace the existing County-run drug disposal programs and create far more than the current 15 medicine drop-off locations dispersed throughout the county to serve 1.86 million residents.
Making the pharmaceutical companies responsible for disposal is consistent with a resolution adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 2007, in support of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which places the responsibility for end-of-life management of consumer products and encourages the manufacturing of products that minimize negative impacts on human health and the environment at every stage of a product’s lifecycle.
Once the ordinance goes into effect, pharmaceutical companies will have one year to submit a plan for safe drug disposal in the county. That plan must include:
·         Establishing over 90 secure drug disposal drop boxes in pharmacies and law enforcement agencies throughout the county;
·         Giving homebound and disabled residents the option of sending in unwanted drugs by mail;
·         Holding periodic public drug collection events; and
·         Securely transports and destroys drugs at a permitted waste disposal facility, in compliance with state and federal law.
When the County gives final approval to their plans, companies must implement the plans within 3 months. Until this new program becomes fully operational, the County will continue to operate its current drug disposal system at an estimated cost of $47,000 annually.
“County taxpayers have paid the tab for safe disposal of unwanted drugs for far too long,” said County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith. “Requiring drug companies to expand the number of secure drop off locations in Santa Clara County appropriately places the responsibility for ensuring that unwanted drugs are not misused or abused on the companies that profited from the sale of those drugs.”
To find a local drop-off location, residents may call 408-299-7300 or go to for a list of drop-off locations. 
The Board voted 3-0 to pass the ordinance. Supervisors Wasserman and Simitian recused themselves.
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Media Contact: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Laurel Anderson, Office of Public Affairs, 408-299-5119
Posted: May 19, 2015
Last updated: 6/22/2017 12:54 PM