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Governor urged to veto 'Big Pharma' bill on his desk

WBFO's Chris Caya

Gov. Andrew Cuomo should veto a bill passed by the New York State Legislature that blocks local governments from billing pharmaceutical companies to dispose of unused prescription drugs. That is the position of Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke, who is sponsoring legislation to hold drug companies accountable.

Burke complains Albany is trying to block local governments from forcing what he calls "Big Pharma" to pay, as the state bill is now before the Governor for action. The South Buffalo representative said the bill whipped through the State Legislature.

"Part of it, I'm sure, was the procedure, it was urgently passed on the last day, I believe," said the South Buffalo legislator. "But I have no doubt in my mind that Big Pharma and their lobbyists are aware of this growing trend across the country of local governments requiring them to take action to pay for their own disposal and are trying to get the state houses to preempt them and that's exactly what we're seeing."

Unused drugs have become a public health and an environmental problem. What usually happens is that unused pills are simply dumped down the drain and eventually show up in waterways downstream from that drain or they wind up being sold on the street to addicts. Police agencies sponsor drives to collect the drugs and properly dispose of them, with local governments often footing the bill.

Burke has long been working to pass his Erie County Pharmaceutical Water Pollution Act that would require drug companies to pay the cost. He noted a recent court case that supports his position.

"Legislation that was passed in Alameda County was obviously opposed by Big Pharma," he said. "They took it to court and they lost. They took it to appeal and they lost. They took it to the Supreme Court and they lost. So what it essentially did was it gave counties the power to force Big Pharma to pay for the cleanup of pharmaceutical wastes."

Brian Smith, associate executive director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, is backing Burke's bill.

"I'm really honored to stand here today with Legislator Burke on this important issue, just as I was honored to stand with him a couple years ago when Erie County passed a law banning plastic micro-beads in personal care products," said Smith. "That local law started a movement that led to a national ban on plastic microbeads. If the state had preempted local action on that issue, we may not have had the national ban we have today."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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