Santa Maria Sun: The great pill debate

May 09, 2013

About every month or so, employees with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department transport thousands of pounds of discarded prescription medications to a medical waste company in Long Beach to be incinerated.

These trips are part of Operation Medicine Cabinet, a program run by the Sheriff’s Department and the county Public Works Department that offers residents a safe, convenient way to dispose of unused and expired medications.

People can deposit their unwanted prescriptions in secure drop boxes at sheriff’s stations in cities throughout the county. Law enforcement collects the pills, packages and stores them, and then takes them to be destroyed.

“We take down about two or three truckloads every time we go,” Lt. Brad McVay told the Sun in a recent interview. “And there has to be an armed escort because of what it is that we’re transporting.”

McVay estimated that each trip costs taxpayers roughly $2,000, and that the department spends a total of about $10,000 per year to dispose of the medications.

However, a new bill recently introduced by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) would shift those costs and more onto the backs of California pharmaceutical companies.

If passed, SB 727 would require drug manufacturers to create and pay for a statewide stewardship program for the collection and disposal of unwanted or expired prescription and over-the-counter drugs. The bill—effective Jan. 1, 2015—would also prohibit manufacturers from selling or distributing certain drugs that aren’t included in a stewardship program.