Drug and Needle Takeback Bill Moves Through Legislature

From San Diego to Stockton, unwanted home generated medical waste is making its way into waterways, libraries, beaches and parks where young children play. Despite a state law mandating proper disposal of needles and many warnings to lock up prescription drugs, millions of sharps and other pharmaceuticals continue to be improperly stored discarded each year, polluting the environment, exacerbating the opioid epidemic, and directly threatening the health and safety of the public.

Fortunately, new legislation that would require manufacturers to pay for the safe disposal of drugs and needles is moving through the California legislature. SB 212 (Jackson, Ting and Gray), a first-of-its-kind bill in the United States, passed the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Metals on Aug. 28 and is now headed to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations.

SB 212 is the product of years of negotiations with the pharmaceutical and sharps manufacturing industries. California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC) Executive Director Heidi Sanborn says she has been urging industry officials to support a statewide law since 2010. In the meantime, CPSC’s supporting local governments have successfully championed the issue jurisdiction by jurisdiction, racking up nine county ordinances to date.

But the patchwork of local ordinances is only a start. People living in remote areas or are home-bound still have trouble accessing containers and safe disposal sites, and the costs to counties can be astronomical if not prohibitive. What California needs is a statewide stewardship program funded by the manufacturers, argues the CPSC. Otherwise, we’re left with incidents like this one, in which thousands of dirty and bloodied diabetics’ needles were discovered by passersby on a Stockton roadside.  Another costly example was when a toilet in McKinley Park in Sacramento in November 2017 clogged with needles and cost $50,000 to install a mechanical grinder to chew up the needles so many are flushed.

That’s where SB 212 comes in. The bill would establish a uniform takeback program to provide safe and convenient drug and sharp disposal statewide. The producer-funded program would put the onus on the manufacturers of needles and drugs to provide for that disposal. This “producer pays” policy approach has been very successfully implemented for years in Canada, Europe, even in Mexico for pharmaceuticals so this is well documented to work.

The bill’s text calls for a statewide system of drop-off kiosks for unwanted drugs, a fully-funded mail-back system for sharps — with pre-paid mail-in container and materials to be provided at point of sale — and a variety of education, oversight, and data tracking mechanisms to ensure successful implementation. It would also provide reimbursements to local agencies for costs related to home-generated sharps disposal as some homes have more volume than a mail-back can handle.

SB 212 doesn’t just provide a solution for cities and counties, but for the industry as well.  

Initially, “the pharmaceutical industry said we don’t want to do this,” notes Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), who authored the bill. “But as counties and cities started implementing their own rules, the industry began realizing it’s better off having one standard. Now, we are working together because if there is no statewide program, there will be 58 counties and 400 cities that will be all over the place in how they handle pharmaceuticals.”

This is a unique opportunity for all stakeholders to come together on an issue that is heavily impacting California’s communities. And this one can save lives.