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Drug companies must pay to dispose of unused prescription medications, under a plan approved Tuesday in Northern California. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the ordinance, the Associated Press reports.

According to a news release by the board, the new policy is the first in the nation to require drugmakers to set up programs to dispose of expired and unused medications. Residents of the county can drop off their medications at 28 locations, at an annual cost of $330,000. Supporters of the ordinance said drug companies should take responsibility for the dangers posed by unused medications, including prescription drug abuse and contamination of the water supply.

“This ordinance isn’t going to have any effect on abuse of prescription drugs,” Marjorie Powell, a representative of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), told the AP. “It’s going to take a whole lot other activities to convince people not to abuse prescription drugs.”

The article notes that pharmaceutical industry representatives argue there is no evidence that drug take-back programs help the environment. They say the ordinance unfairly places the costs of drug disposal only on manufacturers who are based outside of the county.

Instead of drug take-back programs, PhRMA recommends “all unused medicines, unless specified otherwise by the Food and Drug Administration, should be mixed with water, sealed in an opaque container safely secure from children, pets, and others, and discarded in household trash to be later incinerated or placed in a government approved solid waste landfill.”

Critics of this approach say if drugs are put in landfills, chemicals might seep into the waterbed, the article notes.

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