pharmaceutical disposal

Pharmaceuticals Disposal and What’s Next for the Industry

Pharmaceuticals disposal is often an overlooked topic of discussion.  Historically, the public has resorted to flushing unused or expired medications down the toilet or throwing them out with the trash, mostly due to a lack of take back programs or events in many communities. 

In recent years, studies have shown rising levels of medications in water sources, including over 24 metropolitan areas across America.  These medicines seep into water supplies and pass through treatment systems and into drinking water, as treatment plants are often not equipped to routinely remove medicines.

Catch-22 anyone?

Currently, the status of pharmaceuticals disposal causes quite a contradictory issue. On one hand, we have an ever-growing concern for the environment and safe-levels of drinking water, but on the other, the majority of communities actually lack the abilities for take back programs and thus the general public simply ends up holding on to unused drugs. According to Conrad MacKerron, senior VP of the environmental group As You Sow, “Only about 1 percent of U.S. pharmacies offer a drug take-back program.”  As a result, we run into the issue of the poisoning of children or pets, the misuse and overdose by teens and adults, and even the accidental consumption of wrong medications by seniors.

So, what’s next for the industry?

In September, the EPA proposed two new rules to combat the growing issues at hand. The first, aptly named the pharmaceutical rule, aims to prevent all facilities in healthcare from flushing pills down the drain, keeping an estimated more than 6,400 tons of pharmaceuticals waste out of our water systems. The goal here is to push pharmaceutical companies into creating their own take-back initiatives.

The other rule, or the generator rule, looks to improve the labeling of hazardous waste, as well as provide better preparation for emergency planning and preparedness. According to Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, “the proposals will improve the safety and health of our communities by providing clear, flexible and protective hazardous waste management standards.”

Great, but what should we, the public, do?

Drug take-back events

First things first, you should get in contact with your local government’s trash and recycling services and ask about community drug take-back programs, or contact the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)-authorized collectors. Some communities hold collection days and accept unwanted or expired drugs through retail pharmacies, hospital or clinical pharmacies, and law enforcement locations.  Some pharmacies even offer mail-back envelopes for disposing of medicines.

According the the EPA’s website, “Consumers can visit the DEA’s website for more information about drug disposal and to locate an authorized collector in their area. Consumers may also call the DEA Office of Diversion Control’s Registration Call Center at 1-800-882-9539 to find an authorized collector in their community.”

Household disposal

If drug take-back events aren’t possible, which they often are not, you should follow these steps for carefully disposing of medicines. Firstly, remove prescription drugs from their containers and mix with undesirable substances, such as cat litter or coffee grounds. Then, place the mixture in a sealable empty bag or container. Finally, mark out sensitive information on old prescription bottles and dispose of everything in the trash. But remember, this should be a final option after take-back events.

If you’re part of a pharmaceutical company, consider taking the EPA’s advice.  Small steps now can lead to major strides down the road.