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February 10, 2017

California county passes drug disposal ordinance

© Marilyn Gould |

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, Martinez, California, has passed a Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance requiring medication manufacturers to create a stewardship organization that will offer drop-off locations throughout unincorporated areas of the county for the disposal of unwanted, expired and unused medications. The ordinance cites pharmacies and hospitals as examples of convenient locations.

This is the eighth safe drug disposal ordinance adopted in the San Francisco Bay Area and the 13th in the nation, according to the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District (Central San), which advocated for the ordinance. Wastewater agencies have been among those collaborating on safe drug disposal ordinances because clean water advocates say proper disposal of medications means cleaner waterways for fish and wildlife and protects the quality of drinking water.

“It’s our job to be strong stewards for the environment,” says Roger Bailey, general manager of Martinez-based Central San, which operates 13 customer-funded medication drop-off bins in Contra Costa County. “This ordinance helps better protect public health and the environment.”

Central San and six regional wastewater agencies all provided support for the ordinance. Suicide prevention and drug overdose prevention advocates also supported the ordinance, says the board.

“The majority of those who abuse medications obtain them from friends and family and often right from their home medicine cabinets,” says April Rovero, executive director of the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse. “The ordinance will require more medication disposal bins and increase community education, both important steps in reducing access to potentially dangerous and addictive medications in Contra Costa County.”

Among the key elements of the ordinance, according to Central San, are:

  • Medication manufacturers are responsible for working toward a solution to reduce medications entering local waterways.
  • New drop-off bins will accept all medications, including over-the-counter drugs.
  • Medication manufacturers are subject to penalties if they fail to comply.

Since 2012, outgoing Contra Costa County Supervisor Mary Piepho has led the charge for an ordinance for the county.

County supervisors adopted the ordinance at Supervisor Piepho’s final official meeting, in December 2016, just before incoming District III Supervisor Diane Burgis assumes the post.