2 LA Supes criticize industry's drug take-back efforts

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Pharmaceutical trade groups Wednesday unveiled a public education campaign focused on how to dispose of expired medications and "sharps" in Los Angeles County, but two county supervisors criticized the effort, saying the industry failed to follow the Board of Supervisors' directions to increase the number of drug take-back events and locations.

The industry campaign consists of radio, newspaper, bus tail and billboard ads in English and Spanish. It directs people to the website, which has information on all of the existing take-back events and dozens of drop-off locations around the county. The effort will run through the end of December, said a spokesman for one of the sponsors.

The trade groups said their research determined that 67 percent of county residents are unaware of where they can drop off old pills, needles, lancets and other medical "sharps." They launched the campaign Wednesday to call attention to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's "National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day" this Saturday.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis issued separate statements saying the effort falls short.

Calling the website "woefully inadequate," Kuehl said it "does not come remotely close to the kind of program the Board of Supervisors asked the industry to develop."

The Board voted in June to let the industry pursue a public education campaign, rather than force it to design and pay for a comprehensive take-back program.

At the time, "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," said Kuehl.

The June motion endorsed a working group's recommendation that the industry conduct quarterly take-back events in all five supervisorial districts and serve "a minimum of ten unincorporated area communities."

"Instead, the website presents a warmed-over hodgepodge of pre-existing resources and plans," Kuehl said. " In a County of 10 million people and 4,750 square miles, the website does not add a single access point! ... The drug industry has not demonstrated that they take the Board's instructions seriously." 

Solis also criticized the trade groups for not hosting their own take-back events. In addition, she said "it is very disappointing" that they launched the outreach campaign "without going through the appropriate channels for approval."

According to the motion passed in June, the director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health must approve the education and outreach effort.

The supervisors' criticism "underplays and understates" what the pharmaceutical industry has accomplished, said Mike Tringale, spokesman for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. It's sponsoring the outreach campaign along with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Generic Pharmaceutical Association and two medical technology trade groups.

Tringale said the supervisors' June motion directed the industry to pursue a campaign consisting of three "pillars": an education campaign, measurement of public awareness and take-back events.

"We just did two of those three things," he said, adding that "we haven't quite figured out the third one yet."

Insisting that "we take the supervisors' motion extremely seriously," Tringale said the trade groups are negotiating with board members on how to "find the right model and role for us to fill their need for additional capacity." 

The trade associations are not legally allowed to directly host take-back events, so they are trying to find DEA-approved partners, he said, noting that talks are ongoing with local law enforcement agencies and retailers.

"This is not a simple endeavor," said Tringale. "It's going to take time."