PSI submitted the following letter to the Wall Street Journal last week, responding to pharma’s op-ed, “Bad Drug Trip in Alameda.” While the letter was not published, the argument still stands, further solidified by today’s Supreme Court decision in which the Court declined to hear pharma’s petition against the Alameda County Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance.* This decision means that current take-back laws in Alameda County, CA; San Francisco, CA; San Mateo, CA; and King County, WA will remain in effect.
In the May 17 editorial, “Bad Drug Trip in Alameda,” the author criticizes Alameda County, California, for passing a law requiring pharmaceutical companies to provide drug take-back programs in the county, calling the law “protectionist” and based on “a speculative fear.”
Alameda’s law is necessary because pharmaceutical companies have not taken responsibility for the millions of overprescribed, unused, and outdated medications that contribute to drug abuse, accidental poisonings, aquatic impacts, and water quality concerns. The trash or drain is not a safe method for disposing drugs — which is partly why support for these kinds of laws is widespread and growing.
The White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, several federal agencies, and 43 state agencies all support programs to collect and safely dispose of unused medications. Four provinces in Canada and nearly a dozen countries already have pharma-funded and operated drug take-back programs. In addition to Alameda County, three other U.S. counties have adopted similar ordinances. There are 84 other state and local laws that require manufacturers to fund and safely manage the disposal of consumer products.
The US Constitution gives Congress the exclusive power to regulate interstate commerce in Article 1. Big Pharma’s challenge is primarily based on the dormant commerce clause, which maintains that states cannot burden interstate commerce. This burden is subject to a balancing test, one that calls a law illegal only if the burden on commerce is clearly excessive when compared to local benefits.
Do the local benefits – limiting drug abuse and accidental poisonings, and protecting water quality and aquatic organisms – outweigh the burden the pharmaceutical industry must incur to pay for take-back programs? We at PSI think so – and hope the Supreme Court does too.
Chief Executive Officer and Founder
Product Stewardship Institute