Increased Health Care Costs Topple Support for Drug Take-Back Programs

Viability of in-home disposal trumps increased costs

May 13, 2015

As the trend of mandatory drug take-back programs spreads across the country, new polling data shows that an overwhelming majority of American consumers say they have no interest in the programs due to the increased health care costs.

Following the decision by California’s Alameda County to mandate all pharmaceutical companies with products in the county work to set up and pay for a local drug take-back program, many other counties have followed suit with similar legislation.

New data from the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), however, shows that just 12.9 percent said the "convenience of drug take-back programs established by pharmaceutical companies would be worth the increased cost of health care and medicines."

Eighty percent said consumers should learn to properly dispose of medicines at home to "prevent the costs all of us would have to pay as a result of mandatory drug take-back programs."

"Consumers are very sensitive to costs being added to the health care system," said Scott Melville, president and CEO of CHPA. "Why create an expensive bureaucratic solution when there is an easy solution available?"

The poll also found that despite the fact that disposing medicines in household trash is environmentally safe and recommended by the FDA, only 8 percent of consumers see it as a safe alternative.

"Consumers really do want to do the right thing when it comes to medicine disposal, but they are confused as to what that is," Melville said.

The CHPA data, collected from a poll of 1,000 likely voters conducted earlier this year in the Pacific and Northeast regions, indicates that stepping up efforts to educate consumers is the best way to address the issue of medicine disposal.

More than 80 percent said educating consumers was the best solution to the issue. Just 15.3 percent said that "requiring pharmaceutical manufacturers to pay for the implementation of drug take-back programs" was a better option.

Melville said "support completely collapses" for mandatory take-back programs once consumers learn that disposal programs are unnecessary from an environmental standpoint. A University of Michigan study found that take-back programs are not worth the extra "time, money, or greenhouse gas emissions."

Melville also says counties implementing mandatory take-back programs are misrepresenting the effects to constituents.

"It’s being sold to constituents as a cost-free option that is environmentally sensitive," said Melville, who explained that the majority of the companies burdened by the new laws are not high-margin branded prescription drug manufacturers.

"Adding enormous costs through expensive take-back programs will filter down into higher costs for consumers," Melville said. "These costs are being imposed on companies who already strive to keep their products as cheap as possible so consumers aren’t burdened with high out of pocket costs."

"In order to keep health care costs down, we need to focus our solutions on efficient, low-cost solutions that are easy for the consumer—and in-home disposal is a perfect example of common-sense policy," he said. "When they learn that there is no free lunch, then they want to hear about the alternatives such as in-home disposal."

The Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which has petitioned the Supreme Court to weigh whether the Alameda County law is constitutional, said the consumer poll validates its belief that in-home disposal is the more attractive option.

"The findings support what we have been saying consistently: There is no rationale for mandating new, costly, and redundant take-back programs that have not been proven to work when voluntary in-home disposal is effective, ecologically-sustainable, secure, more convenient and less costly for patients," said Tina Stow, a spokesperson for PhRMA

Melville said CHPA is working with pharmaceutical associations, government agencies, and poison control centers to implement a "broader educational program for consumers."

"We have a responsibility as manufacturers to make sure that the consumer knows how to dispose of our products," Melville said. "We stand ready to step up our efforts in this area, and you will see more of it."