Why Collect and Safely Dispose of Pharmaceuticals? What Are the Issues?
Nationally, estimates point to more than 200 million pounds of pharmaceutical waste being generated annually. There are many reasons why these materials become unwanted and need to be disposed of. Some causes are avoidable, while others are not. Often these substances languish in the home and are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse, accidental ingestion, and abuse.
This staggering amount of unused or expired medicine clearly needs to be discarded in a safe and appropriate manner. But unfortunately, many individuals simply are not aware of how to properly dispose of these materials, often flushing them down the toilet, or throwing them away in the regular trash. Even if consumers are aware of how to properly dispose of prescription and non-prescription medications safely, no widespread infrastructure currently exists in the region for them to do so.
Unused prescription medications in homes create public health and safety concerns, because they can be accidentally ingested, stolen, misused, and abused. While the number of Americans who currently abuse prescription drugs dropped in 2013 to 6.5 million from 6.8 million in 2012, that is still more than double the number of those using heroin, cocaine, and hallucinogens like LSD and Ecstasy combined, according to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. That same study revealed more than 70 percent of people abusing prescription pain relievers got them through friends or relatives, a statistic that includes raiding the family medicine cabinet. Correspondingly, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), considers prescription medications the drug of choice for teens. In addition, 22,134 Americans died in 2011 from overdoses of prescription medications, including 16,651 from narcotic painkillers, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The flush and throw methods of disposing of pharmaceuticals also pose both personal safety and environmental hazards. Over the past several years pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors have been detected in growing amounts in surface and drinking water sources around the country. This in part is due to consumers flushing over-the-counter and prescription medications down the toilet. For example a five-month-long Associated Press (AP) investigation conducted in 2008 found traces of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplies of 26 major metropolitan areas from Southern California to New York City, Detroit, and Philadelphia, which provide water to nearly 46 million Americans.