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Environmental Group Launches Initiative for Pharmaceutical Producer Responsibility

The environmental group As You Sow has launched a waste initiative aimed at making major pharmaceutical companies take responsibility for the collection and disposal of unused and expired drugs and accessories.

The Oakland-based group said it has filed shareholder resolutions at AbbVie, Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co., asking the companies to develop policy options for working with industry peers to take primary responsibility for developing a national network of local take-back programs, according to a news release.

“Only about 1 percent of U.S. pharmacies offer a drug take-back program,” said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at As You Sow. “Many people hold on to unneeded drugs because they lack easily accessible collection and disposal options, which can have tragic consequences.”

Improper disposal of prescription drugs can exacerbate issues like drug abuse and water pollution, according to research. Many drugs are flushed down the toilet, and they are increasingly appearing in America’s waterways.

“We believe the companies that put medications on the market and profit from them should be primarily responsible for financing take-back systems,” MacKerron said. Countries such as Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Mexico, Portugal and Spain have pharmaceutical-financed collection programs in place. A French program gathered 30 million pounds of drugs in 2013.

Heidi Sanborn, executive director of the California Product Stewardship Council, said, “We heartily endorse As You Sow’s efforts to encourage pharmaceutical companies to be leaders in protecting public health and offer U.S. consumers the same convenient drug take back programs they operate in many other countries.”

The pharmaceutical industry sued California’s Alameda County and Washington’s King County, which passed ordinances requiring companies to pay for take back programs. The Supreme Court let stand a lower ruling rejected the notion that making pharmaceutical companies pay for take back was unconstitutional.

In September the EPA proposed two new hazardous waste rules, one involving pharmaceutical waste disposal and the other hazardous waste mismanagement.

The proposed pharmaceutical rule would ban healthcare facilities from flushing hazardous waste pharmaceuticals down the sink and toilet. The agency projects the rule could prevent the dumping of more than 6,400 tons of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals annually.

The proposed generator rule aims to improve labeling of hazardous waste, and emergency planning and preparedness. The agency said the rule would improve the safety of facilities, employees and the general public. It also would provide greater flexibility in how facilities and employees manage their hazardous waste while making the regulations easier to understand.

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