Pharmaceuticals are more popular than ever, with 7 out of 10 Americans taking one or more prescription drugs—including antibiotics, antidepressants and pain-blocking opioids, according to researchers from the Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center.
With such massive quantities of prescription pills being generated each year, medical facilities, pharmacies and patients are facing the problem of what to do with all their leftover and expired medications.
Improperly disposing of pharmaceutical waste can cause environmental damage and poses a threat to human and animal health.
For businesses that are discovered illegally dumping their pharmaceuticals, it can also mean costly lawsuits and a tainted public image.
Legal trouble for three big pharmacy chains
In 2012, the drugstore chain Walgreens was slapped with more than $16.5 million in damages for “illegally dumping pharmaceutical and biohazardous wastes throughout California.” As part of the lawsuit settlement, Walgreens also agreed to “fund environmental projects that will further consumer protection and environmental enforcement” in the state.
The same year and also in California, the popular chain CVS “agreed to pay $13.75 million in a settlement to resolve claims that it violated environmental law over a seven-year period by improperly storing and disposing of pharmaceutical and medical waste.” Their agreement also required the company comply with California’s rules of how to properly dispose pharmaceutical waste.
And in 2013, the drugstore chain Rite-Aid paid $12.3 million dollars after they were charged with dumping “toxic, corrosive or ignitable materials ranging from pharmaceuticals and pesticides to paint, aerosols, and bleach in local landfills over the course of six and a half years.” They were tasked with instituting an environmental protection training program and partnering with medical waste disposal companies compliant with state medical waste regulations for safe collection and disposal of their pharmaceutical waste.
The fallout for these major pharmacies went beyond the hefty fines—it was also a public hit to their brand’s image. If you are a company in the business of preventing and treating disease, being caught improperly dumping pharmaceutical waste that threatens environmental and human health does not make for positive publicity.
Safe drug disposal alternatives
Evidence suggests that prescription drugs pose a significant danger to the environment—but pharmacists, other medical professionals and even patients themselves can play a role in prevention.
A long-term solution to the proliferation of so many prescription drugs is promoting better public health programs and advising patients of prescription-free alternatives to wellness that lessen the need to produce large quantities of prescription drugs in the first place.
The next best solution is learning and following your state’s regulations for safe disposal of your pharmaceutical waste. If you are a hospital, pharmacy or other medical facility, check out tools for safe pharmaceutical waste disposal for health systems here.
The FDA advises individual patients with unused and expired medications to first consult the medication bottle for instructions on proper disposal.
Although some medications may be safely flushed down a toilet or sink, many others should never be flushed—so patients should be told to carefully read the instructions on their medication before taking action. Certain other drugs can be thrown in with the household trash, but they should be mixed with undesirable garbage or sealed in a container so that animals or humans seeking unused drugs illegally won’t pull them out of the trash. Again, it is best for patients to first consult the instructions that come with their particular prescription. Individuals can also research local programs that allow them to drop off their medications at a central location for proper disposal. Local law enforcement agencies can help people who are interested in locating these programs. The DEA also offers mail-back programs and drop-boxes for unused drugs. Individual consumers can get more guidelines on the safe disposal of pharmaceuticals here.
Hospitals and medical facilities can also get help from waste management companies like Cyntox. With locations in 44 states, Cyntox is familiar with the regulations in every state we serve and can keep your business compliant with regulations for pharmaceutical waste. Give us a call today for a free quote.