Alameda County supervisors are poised -- once again -- to make Big Pharma responsible for collecting leftover drugs they manufacture, the first local government to do so.
Supervisors were expected to approve the proposed law unanimously in March until eleventh hour lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry managed to halt its passage.
The board finally took up the matter again on July 10 during the first reading of the revised ordinance and voted 5-0 in favor.
They are expected to finalize passage during a second and final reading on July 24, setting the stage for a law that California legislators have been unable to push through because of opposition from Big Pharma.
The decision could have national ramifications if other local governments decide to follow suit. But it has taken more than a year to get this far.
When passage stalled in March, Supervisor Nate Miley said the board would decide the matter no later than June and scheduled six "stakeholder" meetings in the meantime.
The delay gave "the industry an opportunity to participate more holistically in reviewing the ordinance and giving us input," Miley said Tuesday during the regular supervisors' meeting.
The result is an ordinance that still requires drug manufacturers to come up with plans for financing and collecting prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
The deadline was pushed back six months to July 1, 2013, but companies still have to foot the price for compliance without passing on costs to customers.
In addition, retailers and pharmacies are now exempt. And companies cited for violating the ordinance will get a second chance to appeal to a hearing officer appointed by the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health.
In the new version of the law, supervisors have "sole discretion" to allow the companies to present additional evidence. They can also overrule the officer's decision.
Miley said supervisors met separately with industry representatives but received little support for the county's solution to solving the public safety and environmental effects of the ordinance associated with unused medications.
Lobbyists, in contrast, have consistently argued the ordinance was premature, piecemeal and unnecessary. On July 10, Ritchard Engelhardt, a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical trade association BayBio, argued the ordinance is unfair because it places the entire onus for collection on the industry.
"People have to be their own guardians and stewards," he told the board.
The stewards of the drug take-back program would be the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health.
The department can fine companies that don't comply up to $1,000 per day. The worst offenders would face misdemeanor charges.