US high court: California county drug disposal law stands

The U.S. Supreme Court is letting a Northern California county's drug disposal law stand, paving the way for similar ordinances elsewhere.

The court refused to hear the pharmaceutical industry's challenge to an Alameda County program that requires drug companies to pay for the disposal of unused medicines.

The law was passed to prevent unused drugs from getting in the San Francisco Bay, groundwater and the hands of abusers, the San Jose Mercury News reported Wednesday ( ).

San Francisco County passed a similar law but was waiting to enact it until the court case was resolved. San Mateo County is close to launching a similar program, and Santa Clara County is considering one. Washington state's King County enacted an ordinance in 2013.

Drug companies estimate they will spend $1.2 million annually complying with the Alameda ordinance. The county estimated a far smaller cost of $330,000 a year.

The law was modeled on legislation governing the disposal of batteries, tires and other potentially harmful goods. Drug companies cannot charge fees to pass the costs to consumers.

People often hold on to expired pills, unsure of what to do with them, said Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, who authored the law. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said a drug take-back event last year collected 799 pounds of pills in one day.

Plaintiffs, including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, issued a joint statement Tuesday saying the industry would “continue to actively work to educate consumers on the appropriate use of medicines,” including safeguarding at home and promoting safe disposal.

The companies had argued the law interfered with the free flow of goods guaranteed in the Constitution's interstate commerce clause.

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