Do You Take Drugs – In Your Drinking Water?

This guest post is the first of two guest posts from David P. Tusa, CEO and President of Sharps Compliance Corp.(Nasdaq: SMED), a leading full-service provider of cost-effective management solutions for medical waste and unused dispensed medications generated outside the healthcare facility setting.

Prescription pharmaceuticals can improve our health and quality of life. But often people do not or cannot take the full prescribed amounts of such medications for many different reasons. The vast majority of unused medications is either flushed down the toilet and drains entering into the water supply or remains in our medicine cabinets where they could fall into the wrong hands and cause accidental drug overdoses.

It is estimated that more than four billion prescriptions are written annually in the U.S. and up to 40 percent of associated drugs dispensed outside of hospitals go unused, generating approximately 200 million pounds of pharmaceutical waste each year. Unused medications enter the water by being flushed through sewer systems which cannot, with current technology, remove them. There are no federal testing requirements or safety standards for pharmaceuticals in water, and the risks posed to the water supply are largely unknown. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now studying 125 pharmaceuticals or related chemicals to determine whether regulations are needed.

In 2007, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy issued the first guidance for proper consumer disposal of prescription drugs, encouraging programs such as disposal-by-mail. These are designed for individual consumers and community care facilities to dispose of unused medications, using special containers and return packaging with pre-paid shipping to an authorized treatment facility. They can also be used in “take back” programs where unused pharmaceuticals are returned to designated locations for collection and ultimate disposal.

At least 20 states have laws to regulate unused medication disposal, and now the federal government has added an important new tool. The Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010, which became law on October 12, 2010, addresses the disposal of the most dangerous pharmaceutical drugs -– controlled substance medications – that required law enforcement approval for proper disposal.

This Act authorizes the Attorney General to create new regulations allowing patients to deliver unused pharmaceutical controlled substances to appropriate entities for safe, effective, security-controlled disposal. It also encourages public and private entities to develop new ways to collect and dispose of controlled substances, including some pharmaceuticals, in a secure, convenient, and responsible manner to prevent their introduction into the environment.

The unused drug problem will not go away; but such a combination of regulation and disposal options offers the best chance to manage this environmental challenge.

Photo Credit: Chuckumentary via flickr under a CC license

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