Effort launched to force big pharma to pay for drug disposal costs

Jan 24, 2017

An Erie County Legislator has introduced a local bill that, if passed, would put more responsibility on pharmaceutical companies to pay for the cost of disposing unused medications. The bill is designed to protect a natural resource where, according to the elected official, contaminants from improperly discarded meds are turning up.

Legislator Patrick Burke, whose district includes South Buffalo, Cheektowaga, Sloan and Kaisertown, has submitted a proposed local law that would require big pharma to cover the cost of disposing unused medications appropriately. Numerous unused medications are thrown away by means including flushing them down toilets and as a result, Burke suggests, the remnants are emerging in waterways including creeks, streams, lakes and even some drinking water reservoirs.

Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke
Credit WBFO file photo/Chris Caya

"I heard someone make sort of a glib joke the other day that they're feeling depressed, so instead of going to the pharmacy they're just going to drink a cup of tap water," Burke said. "It's a real concern. We don't know what the ramifications of that will be but it certainly is disconcerting that that amount of trace pharmaceuticals are ending up in our waterways."

Burke anticipates his proposal will be sent to committee for discussion, most likely Health and Human Services. His bill is based on a law passed in Alameda County, California, one that Burke points out was challenged by the pharmaceutical industry but upheld.

Burke believes his proposal is one that allows the county to again take a leadership role in guarding one of the Great Lakes, just as the county did when banning microbeads.

Burke says big pharma is enjoying huge profits while municipalities are picking up the cost of cleaning up improperly disposed medications. As he sees it, this is an opportunity to get them to "pay their fair share."

"I don't see where this harms us," he said. "We can't be threatened for a lawsuit because it's already been determined in court that we can do this. This is just common sense legislation that should be done right away."