Wrong Measure at the Wrong Time

San Francisco is poised to pass yet another “first in the nation” – and potentially illegal – mandate that may threaten the city’s access to medical treatment.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will take a final vote on the “San Francisco Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance.”  While we can all agree that keeping drugs out of the nation’s waste stream, protecting water systems and preventing the illegal sale and use of drugs are valid governmental goals, this measure is impractical, difficult to administer, appears to violate federal law and may ultimately limit San Franciscan’s access to some medical treatments.

The feasibility of the measure is questionable at best. The mandate will impact over 1,000 drug manufactures from all over the world.  Each would be required to submit its own plans for local drug disposal by April 1.  The manufacturers would then need to implement approved programs by September 1, or face hefty fines.  The schedule of the mandate alone may cause some manufacturers to reconsider providing their products in San Francisco to avoid liability.  In fact, the California Health Institute has stated that a San Francisco specific program will “have the unintended consequence of interfering with access to needed medicines for residents and likely increase costs in the health care system.”

It’s not just private businesses that will be impacted by the new law. Several city agencies will be involved in the process of approving, administering and enforcing the mandate.  The Department of the Environment is charged with the review and approval of manufacturer plans. The Police Department must be involved with the collection of controlled substances. And the Health Commission is generally involved with any program impacting the health of San Francisco residents. Yet, no public hearings have been conducted at these commissions.

The timing of this legislation is also troubling.  In October 2010, President Obama signed The Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010, directing the US Attorney General (AG) to craft guidelines for local jurisdictions to create drug take back programs for controlled substances. Until the AG provides these guidelines, federal law limits the take back of controlled substances to law enforcement officers. If San Francisco acts prior to the federal guidelines, the city’s law may not confirm with upcoming federal rules – forcing manufacturers and city agencies to rewrite their programs.

The San Francisco Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance is the wrong measure at the wrong time.  The Chamber has urged the Board of Supervisors to table the legislation until the AG has issued national drug take back guidelines.  In the meantime, the Chamber believes that the city should explore developing a pilot public education campaign on proper drug disposal practices.  At a minimum, the Board should refer the item back to committee to provide time for the appropriate commissions to conduct public hearings on this complex and important regulatory issue.