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Nearly two dozen funds that focus on socially responsible investing want several large drug makers to develop policies for “taking back” unused or expired medications. And their effort is being led by a nonprofit advocacy group that has simultaneously proposed shareholder resolutions requiring three of those companies — Merck, Johnson & Johnson and AbbVie — to pay for the so-called take back programs.

The moves build on laws that have been passed by several local governments, mostly in California, requiring drug makers to pay for collecting and disposing of unwanted medicines. Over opposition from pharmaceutical industry trade groups, the US Supreme Court last year upheld the legality of the first such ordinance, which was passed four years ago in Alameda County, California.


These local laws reflect growing interest in reducing contaminants in drinking water and lowering the threat of drug abuse stemming from drugs that linger in household medicine chests. But take-back programs can also be expensive. Local governments are turning to drug makers to shoulder the costs, since the companies also profit from selling medicines to their residents.

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