Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley is asking his colleagues to consider a new ordinance that would require drug manufacturers to design and pay for a prescription drug take-back program.

According to a memo written by Miley that was circulated on Friday, traces of prescription drugs are now being found in the ground water and in the fluids that build up beneath landfills. That, combined with the increase of abuse of prescription drugs, has the County moving ahead with their first-in-the-nation ordinance.

This isn’t the first time this issue has come up in the Bay Area. In 2010, San Francisco considered a similar ordinance, initially approving the new law before referring it back to committee in 2011. That legislation has languished in municipal limbo for the last 13 months.

Since then, San Francisco has implemented various programs to help take the used drugs off the streets and out of medicine cabinets. SFEnvironment received $110,000 in grant money from the pharmaceutical industry to combat the inappropriate disposal of prescription medication. That program allows residents to bring unwanted prescriptions to any of twelve participating pharmacies and turn them over for proper disposal.

Another program that involves the San Francisco Police Department is the Drug Take-Back Day. Sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, these collection days happen approximately every six months. The programs began in 2010 and have been collecting hundreds of tons of medication nationally.

According to press releases provided by the San Francisco Division of the DEA, the October 2010 Take-Back Event collected 11,648 pounds of medication. The following May, they collected another 28,377 pounds.

“Once again many citizens took the opportunity to clean out their medicine cabinets of these expired, unused, and unwanted drugs,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams in the press release associated with the second Take-Back Event..
Additionally, national regulations are currently under consideration by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Authorized by the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010, the DEA is creating guidelines and programs to help collect unwanted medicines and reduce their misuse and improper disposal. These guidelines are expected to be made public in 2012, when they will undergo a period of public comment. It is expected that new guidelines would affect local measures due to new requirements for how the take-back programs would work.

Alameda is not waiting for the federal government.

Justification for the new ordinance comes from studies and reports that document the threat to public health and the environment. The number of overdoses from prescription drugs, both intention and unintentional has been on the rise for the past decade. Trace amounts of the drugs are also being found in the environment, water, and in landfill fluid build up – called leachate.

The statistical increases in environmental traces aren’t disputed. However, some question both the source of the increase and how it should be dealt with.

Patrick Moore, the Co-Founder of Green Peace and a scientist at Greenspirit Strategies, published two articles on PublicCEO, one in October 2010 and the other in January 2011, discussing his views on medicines in the environment and how unwanted medicines should be disposed.

Even when taken as prescribed or directed, the body naturally excretes trace amounts of medication, often in the form of urine. Those fluids then enter water treatment facilities and are released into the environment.

According to a report published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of opiate drugs sold in the United States has increased by 300% since 1999. These drugs are the most common abused prescription drugs and their proliferation during the past decade could account for the increase in drug over doses and the increase in environmental traces.

The ordinance, which already received preliminary approval on a 4-0 vote, is set to be voted upon for a second time on Tuesday.