Alameda Drug Disposal Law Upheld

Alameda County’s first-in-the-nation law requiring pharmaceutical companies to operate disposal of unwanted drugs programs has passed a constitutional challenge.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the 2012 ordinance does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause by requiring interstate drug makers to pay for the county drug disposal program.

Under the law, to pay for the Product Stewardship Program, manufacturers must provide for collection, transportation and disposal of unwanted prescription drugs, no matter which manufacturer made the drug.

The appeals court upheld the law despite a facial challenge on its constitutionality by non-profit trade organizations representing the pharma industry.

The law requires the companies to set up disposal kiosk sites throughout Alameda, which consist of disposal bins located in areas that are convenient for residents.

Collected drugs must be destroyed at medical waste facilities.

The program, if companies worked jointly, was expected to cost $1.1 million, including $200,000 in start-up costs.

The trade groups argued that the Constitution’s Dormant Commerce Clause prevents states from unjustly discriminating against other states or companies by burdening the flow on interstate commerce.  It is intended to prevent state protectionism laws.

Judge N. Randy Smith wrote that the law applies to all companies that make their drugs available in AlamedaCounty and thus does not discriminate against commerce by particular firms.

The law does not regulate commerce directly, nor does it impose an undue burden on companies through the cost $1.2 million annual cost, according to Smith, who pointed out drug makers receive roughly $950 million a year from AlamedaCounty consumers.

“Opinions vary widely as to whether adoption of the ordinance was a good idea,” Smith said.  “We leave that debate to other institutions and the public at large,” he said.

It does not, however, violate the dormant Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Case: Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America v. County of Alameda, No. 13-16833


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