SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - Millions of prescriptions are filled in California every year. Some unused or unwanted medications are discarded into municipal water systems.
Santa Cruz is the first city in the nation to pass an ordinance that puts the responsibility of properly disposing unwanted pills and needles on drug manufacturers and pharmacies. It is part of a continued effort to make sure the city's waterways remain clean.
"For humans it's not yet quantified what the damage would be, but it is clear what it does to wildlife. Because fish and amphibians live in that environment so they continually get dosed with medicines they don't need," said laboratories and environmental compliance manager, Akin Babatola.
In 2007, the city started paying $10,000 for the proper disposal of unwanted prescription drugs and needles. City officials said paying that bill will now be in the hands of the drug manufacturers.
"The funding is now going to be the responsibility of the manufacturer of the product. They can pass responsibility to the pharmacies if the pharmacies want to do it for them but they still have to pay for it," said Babatola.
There are 30 pharmacies in Santa Cruz and this fall they'll have to present a plan to the city showing how they intend to meet the new requirements. Horsnyder's Pharmacy on Soquel Avenue said they'd like to keep things the way they are.
"We have a program that's been really, really, effective and works well and efficient. The cost may be between $10,000 and $20,000 to operate. There really is no reason to reinvent the wheel that's been successful," said pharmacist Mark Wilson.
Horsnyder's Pharmacy collects about 100 pounds of unwanted pills which are picked up about once a week. Although the ordinance intends to help keep the Santa Cruz water source clean, city officials said it won't be possible without the public doing its part too.
"We need to be responsible adults, so getting those drugs out of our medicine cabinets when we no longer require them and into the proper disposal channel is everyone's responsibility," said Santa Cruz resident David Giannini.
PREVIOUS STORY: Every pharmacy in Santa Cruz will soon be required to collect and dispose of any drugs that patients don't want.
Santa Cruz is the first U.S. city to law require drug producers and retailers to develop programs to dispose of unwanted medications as well as items such as needles and syringes.
Tonight, KION's Brandon Castillo explains how the new ordinance will work and what city leaders expect to accomplish.