L.A. County supervisors vote not to saddle pharmaceutical companies with cost of needle disposal

medical health care needleLos Angeles County supervisors have decided against establishing a program in the nation’s most populous county that would have required the makers of common products to be responsible for the cost of their disposal. The decision came as a big relief to the targeted pharmaceutical industry, but also to other industries which wondered who would be targeted next by governments in search of budget relief. Several smaller California counties have adopted such policies, but none with the high profile of Los Angeles.

As CalWatchdog reported in April, supervisors had taken initial steps to mandate that the costs involved in collecting and disposing of unused prescription drugs and syringes be shifted from Los Angeles County to U.S. and international pharmaceutical companies.

The measure wasn’t justified with claims that these companies somehow had a moral and ethical responsibility to pay for disposal of their potentially dangerous products. Instead, officials asserted that it was a costly and difficult task that the county was ill-suited to handle. This type of trash is “one of the things we’re completely ill-equipped to take. … We just had one of our biggest days ever just a few months ago where we had almost 27 1/2 pounds of needles come through the line. The workers up there have leather gloves, but there are no gloves made that can stop a fine, little puncture from a needle,” a Burbank recylcing manager told KPCC.

Board disregards testimony of county health executive

But this week, three of five county supervisors went against the proposal, bucking the testimony of interim county Health Officer Jeffrey Gunzehauser, who linked ineffective drug disposal policies to the nation’s opiate overdose epidemic.

Instead, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas, Don Knabe and Mike Antonovich accepted the pharmaceutical companies’ offer “to pay for an education and outreach program about existing take-back options and to explain how to dispose of unused medications in the trash, a method opposed by county public health officials,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

This didn’t sit well with the Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. They wanted the program adopted and hold out hope it can be revived.

While the L.A. County plan is unusual, it has a precedent. In 2013, lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown enacted Senate Bill 254. The law requires mattress manufacturers “to create and manage a mattress recycling organization that will provide recycling services to municipalities for free. The program will be financed by a visible mattress recycling charge, or ‘eco-fee,’ which will be collected from consumers at the point of sale.”

Mattress manufacturers complained intensely about the law, but talk of a lawsuit was never followed up on.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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