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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

October 26, 2016 -- Sheila Kuehl, the County supervisor whose district includes Santa Monica, is not impressed with what drug companies are calling a campaign to ensure safe disposal of prescription drugs and syringes, also known as sharps.

A coalition of five medical industry associations launched a website last week called that lists disposal locations, both general and specific.

The website also features information on proper handling of prescription drugs and their containers to ensure they don’t get into the hands of teens and others who shouldn’t be accessing them.

But Kuehl says the website does far less than what drug companies promised to do in the summer when the Board of Supervisors backed off a plan, at least for the time being, to institute a major drug and syringe take-back program.

"Before adopting our own rules, we agreed to let the drug companies, at a minimum, show that they could act responsibly by sponsoring more take-back events in a greater number of locations," Kuehl wrote. "Instead, the website presents a warmed-over hodgepodge of pre-existing resources and plans."

She continued, "In a county of 10 million people and 4,750 square miles, the website does not add a single access point! This does not reflect any kind of serious commitment to medication and sharps disposal."

The Lookout contacted the coalition about Kuehl's comments, and spokesman Denis Wolcott replied that the group is taking the County's "need for disposal awareness very seriously." He added that the website is part of a greater outreach program.

"Any criticism [of the website] understates the full scope of our efforts in Los Angeles County," wrote Wolcott in an email to The Lookout.

He added, "As you can see from the advertising campaign and other efforts, there is a broader scope to our campaign activities. A centralized website that provides comprehensive information about safe and responsible disposal addresses a need that country residents expressed in our survey."

A proposal went before the County board in June calling for pharmaceutical companies to pay for a disposal program for medications and syringes. It had the support of various activist groups, including Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay, which says syringes are polluting the beaches.

By a vote of 3-0 (with Kuehl and Supervisor Hilda Solis abstaining), the board went with the education and outreach route instead.

The Department of Public Health is expected to issue a report next month about whether this plan has succeeded.

Kuehl said at the June meeting that she did not expect the plan to succeed and looked forward to the report confirming "how weak it is, how ineffective it is and how much more we need."

Drug industry officials who addressed the County board at that meeting cited two major reasons for opposing the ordinance -- cost and their belief that a similar policy in Alameda County had been a failure (a charge not universally accepted).

These arguments, especially the cost one, did not persuade supporters. Kuehl addressed the financial issue on her website.

Drug companies "must take responsibility for the drugs they produce and profit from. Without convenient disposal, medication will end up in our water supply and oceans, and syringes will wash up on our beaches,” she wrote.

“The health and safety of our residents and our environment are at stake.”

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