The City and County of San Francisco and the County of Alameda take two approaches and achieve the same outcome; a safer and healthier environment for residents


San Francisco’s Department of the Environment (SF Environment), in collaboration with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), launched the first ever safe medicine disposal pilot program paid for by pharmaceutical manufacturers in April 2012. This week they celebrated the successful program by thanking all of the volunteer pharmacies and SF police stations for participating in the program and serving as medicine drop off locations and collecting almost 6 tons of unused or unwanted medicine in just 9 months.


Across the Bay, Alameda County MEDS Coalition is also celebrating. In August 2012 Alameda became the nation’s first county to pass legislation requiring the pharmaceutical industry to pay for medicine disposal on an ongoing basis. This week they brought together stakeholders from many Bay Area counties and advocacy groups to applaud the legislative victory, discussed implementation and reiterated the importance of proper disposal.


“The success of this program is beyond our initial expectations, having collected almost 6 tons of unused medicine in only 9 months,” said Melanie Nutter, Director, San Francisco Department of the Environment. “With the support of our partner pharmacies and police stations throughout San Francisco, we are able to help residents keep unwanted medicines out of our water supply and the landfill."


 “We’re excited to see the success of San Francisco’s pilot program,” said Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley. “We not only appreciate your support but that from all of our partners throughout the Bay Area and across the state and nation in helping Alameda pass the first legislation of its kind in the nation. Our goal is to reduce teenage prescription drug abuse and prevent discarded pills from entering our waterways and landfills.”


When implemented, Alameda County’s Safe Medicine Disposal Ordinance will allow for a medicine collection network similar to San Francisco’s thriving pilot program. The San Francisco medicine take-back program is the first to be funded in part by grants from pharmaceutical manufacturers. However, funds from this one-time grant are coming to a close, which means the program will end shortly if it doesn’t receive additional support. The City is working with stakeholders to sustain the hugely successful program, including requesting that manufacturers extend the life of the Pilot Program.


Unused medicine is a threat to both public health and the environment. Since 2003 more drug overdoses have occurred annually from prescription medicines than from cocaine and heroin combined. According to the Center for Disease Control, "Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States." Accidental poisonings from medicines in the home are also a concern for young children, the elderly and pets.


 “We are happy to partner with SF Environment and SFPUC in order to keep controlled substances off our streets, and help prevent accidental overdosing” said San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr. “Safe disposal of unused medicine is not just a benefit to our environment, it is a benefit to the health and wellbeing of our communities, and the more we can dispose of medicine properly, the less my Department has to worry about it getting into the wrong hands.”


While wastewater treatment facilities are very effective at removing solids and harmful bacteria, they are not designed to remove pharmaceutical chemicals. Medicines that are flushed down the drain or leached from landfills eventually end up in our waterways. According to the President's Cancer Panel's most recent report, "Pharmaceuticals have become a significant source of water pollutant nationwide." Even the tiniest amounts of medicine can harm marine life--for example, antidepressants have been shown to disrupt fish reproductive cycles.


“With this program in place we can now direct our ratepayers to easy and convenient ways to safely and properly dispose of their expired or unwanted medicine,” said Karri Ving, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Pollution Prevention Program Manager. “When these medicines end up in the landfill or in our sewer system they can be harmful to our environment and cause irreversible damage to aquatic ecosystems.”


San Francisco and Alameda counties are determined to reduce the environmental and public health consequences associated with improper medicine disposal. Both have made great progress toward finding a permanent, safe and convenient solution for disposal of unwanted or expired medicines. To contribute to this effort, choose a New Year’s resolution that is easy to fulfill: properly dispose of unwanted or expired medicine at a participating collection site near you! Visit for San Francisco sites and for sites in Alameda County.