SF mandates disposal of drugs

San Francisco became the first city in the nation Tuesday to mandate a drug-disposal program funded by pharmaceutical companies.

Pharmaceutical companies will be required to set up, fund and operate a program for people to drop off their unwanted and expired prescription drugs for safe disposal by September 2011.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who introduced the legislation, has said such a program would reduce accidental ingestion of drugs by children under the age of 6, limit teenagers’ access to painkillers and cut down on the suicide rate. Also, the program would combat the disposal of drugs down the toilet, increasing their chances of winding up in the Bay, he has said.

Pharmaceutical companies opposed Mirkarimi’s legislation and have successfully fought against similar efforts in other states. A compromise was under discussion for seven weeks, but ultimately agreement was not reached.

The Board of Supervisors voted 7-4 Tuesday to approve the bill. Supervisors Bevan Dufty, Sean Elsbernd, Carmen Chu and Michela Alioto-Pier opposed it.

In a letter sent earlier this year to Mirkarimi, Genentech called the proposal “unreasonable.”

“It is undeniable that the program will ultimately, at least indirectly, increase overall costs to these same consumers,” the letter said. “During a time when the cost of health care continues to rise, programs such as this would only add to health care costs while providing no quantifiable benefit.”

Genentech also says this program would “discourage investment” of clinical research going on in San Francisco’s biotech industry.

The fate of the legislation remains uncertain. The mayor could veto the bill, but it is unknown who will be mayor at that time. The board will take a second vote on the legislation Jan. 4, giving the mayor 10 days to veto it. Mayor Gavin Newsom could be sworn into his statewide post on Jan. 3, leaving the veto decision up to an interim or acting mayor, or Newsom could postpone the swearing-in to later in the week.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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