California city requires pharmacies to collect unwanted Rx drugs


Santa Cruz, Calif. has become the first U.S. city to require retail pharmacies and drug manufacturers collect and dispose of unwanted prescription drugs.

Santa Cruz, Calif. has become the first U.S. city to require retail pharmacies and drug manufacturers to collect and dispose of unwanted prescription drugs.

The ordinance went into effect on September 12, but pharmacies have until November 12 to present their plans to the city on how they will meet the new requirements.

Shutterstock/Susanna MattiodaSanta Cruz’s new Extended Producers Responsibility Ordinance requires manufacturers and retailers to develop programs to dispose of unneeded medications and unwanted hazardous medical products such as needles and syringes.

“Until now, our sharps and drug take back program was based on an environmental benefits analysis,” said City of Santa Cruz Environmental Compliance Manager Akin Babatola. “But the new ordinance brings a social justice component. Since 2007, the City has budgeted $7,000 to $10,000 annually in program costs to keep our rivers and ocean clean from these chemical wastes. From now on, we will have the manufacturers and distributors pick up the tab.”

However, some of the more than 30 pharmacies in the city already have medication disposal programs in place. “We have installed safe medication disposal kiosks in our Santa Cruz pharmacies,” said Phil Caruso, media relations representative for Walgreens.

In 2012, Alameda, Calif. became the first U.S. county to enact a medication disposal ordinance. And in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the pharmaceutical industry's attempt to overturn that ordinance.

“This ruling validated this model for control at county and municipal levels. A total of nine counties nationwide have enacted similar ordinances to Santa Cruz,” Santa Cruz officials said in a statement. “All of these ordinances prohibit the manufacturers and/or producers of the products from charging any visible fee at point of sale or point of collection.”


City officials said that its groundwater and drinking water is being contaminated by unwanted, leftover, and expired drugs passing through its wastewater treatment centers and that “manufacturers, retailers, and producers have not offered any support for a permanent collection program to date.”

Santa Cruz collected 28,000 doses of analgesics, 22,000 doses of anti-inflammatory drugs, 20,000 doses of blood thinners, and several thousand doses of other pharmaceuticals “for reasonable disposal and diversion from wastewater and surface waters in one year.”


Santa Cruz has had a voluntary medication disposal program in place since 2007, in partnership with Watsonville, Capitola, and Scotts Valley. However, participation in collection and disposal of unwanted drugs was voluntary, “resulting in a patchwork of businesses participating in one or both programs, leading to confusion among consumers and sometimes improper disposal in the wrong containers,” Santa Cruz officials said.

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