Most of us don’t think about the old pill bottles cluttering up our medicine cabinets. But there are actually some important safety, privacy and environmental issues surrounding the disposal of unused prescription drugs. In this respect, take-back events are worthy endeavors. But some lawmakers want to go farther and make take-back programs mandatory.
Alameda County, California, recently passed an ordinance that would do just that. The county’s new law requires pharmaceutical companies to develop, manage and pay for a new local drug take-back program.
There’s good reason to believe very few people will participate in this program. It is also likely to result in higher drug prices and will produce few environmental benefits.
The driving force behind the take-back programs is concern for the environment. But less than 10 percent of pharmaceutical contamination is the result of improper disposal of unused medications. The vast majority of pharmaceutical contamination results from drugs being excreted by humans into waste water — a problem take-back programs obviously can’t address.
Encouraging proper household disposal is a superior approach to tackling this problem. Trash collected from homes is usually incinerated or put into double-lined municipal landfills equipped with collection systems that keep medicines from leaching into the ground.