Pharma companies to fund drug take-back program across California

San Rafael, CA – County of Marin officials had reason to feel pride recently when California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 212, which establishes a statewide program to collect unused and unwanted medications and so-called sharps, such as needles.

Dr. Matt Willis, the County's Public Health Officer, is shown holding a box of prescription drugs during a take-back day a few years ago.

Dr. Matt Willis (center), the County’s Public Health Officer, has been a staunch advocate of safe medication disposal along with many other stakeholders in Marin.

Three years ago, the Marin County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance requiring pharmaceutical manufacturers to create – and pay for – a countywide system for the safe disposal of unused and unwanted meds. Marin became one of the first counties to adopt such an ordinance. Nine more counties and three cities have adopted similar ordinances.

After receiving unanimous support (39-0) in the state Senate, the Governor signed the bill September 30. Once the statewide take-back system is in place, Marin will have the choice to adopt the state program or continue with the one it created in 2015.

“This is a really good example of how local policy can lead to better things,” said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin’s Public Health Officer. “We felt tremendous validation for our community effort back when the County adopted the ordinance, and it was another huge victory for public safety when we heard the Governor signed SB 212 into law. We owe a lot to our partners who were champions at the grassroots level.”

The recreational misuse of medications is considered a crisis in Marin, a county in which more than 10 percent high school juniors reported taking painkillers recreationally without a prescription and about 25 percent of Marin adults need help for drug and alcohol misuse. The effort to create a safe disposal ordinance was spearheaded by RxSafe Marin, a grassroots coalition that brought together leaders from environmental health, law enforcement, health care and public health to draft the ordinance. Several County of Marin departments regularly participate in RxSafe Marin conferences, action teams and events.

One year ago, the Marin County Supervisors heard a report about Marin’s newly established network of safe drug disposal sites across Marin. Med-Project, the organization funded by pharmaceutical producers to administer the new drug take-back program, has established 16 sites throughout the county plus nine mail-back locations. Later in October, free-standing CVS drug stores in Marin will join the program and add to the list of collection locations (not CVS locations within Target stores).

In the most recent 12-month period, Marin’s program collected 7,871 pounds (3.9 tons) of unused and unwanted medications from the kiosks around the county. The annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is coming up October 27, and there will be another enthusiastic push to have residents clear out their medicine cabinets.

Greg Knell was an early champion for the drug takeback program. He is a longtime trustee and current Board President with San Rafael City Schools as well as an active participant in RxSafe Marin.

“We pushed for this law because too many of our kids were misusing powerful medications, like opioid painkillers, that they’d gotten from home medicine cabinets,” Knell said. “Plus, these compounds show up in our rivers and streams. We needed a way to safely get rid of medications to protect our community.”

Prior to the local ordinance, the cost and administration of the County’s system for safe disposal of medications fell to Marin County Community Development Agency’s Environmental Health Services (EHS) division and was financed by local sanitary districts. With the ordinance in place, the pharmaceutical industry is helping safely remove its products and are held responsible for their safe disposal.

Learn more about the safe drug disposal ordinance on the County website. Find a local drop-off point through the Marin EHS webpage or on med-project.org, or call 415-473-6907. If you’re willing to be an advocate for the program, consider contacting the RxSafe Marin organizers by emailing rxsafemarin@gmail.com or calling 415-473-6731.