Impact Healthcare


How to Get Rid of Excess Medicine Taking Responsibility to Safeguard the Environment?

Think about your medicine cabinet.  Chances are, it houses a collection of prescription drugs – some you use regularly, others leftover from past ailments.  While these medications play a vital role in maintaining our health, what happens to those that go unused or expire?  Unfortunately, many end up flushed down the toilet or tossed in the trash, unknowingly contributing to a growing environmental concern – pharmaceutical pollution.

Studies reveal that an estimated 60% of adults in the United States rely on daily prescription medication. While these prescriptions come with instructions for use, disposal guidance is often scarce.  This lack of awareness translates into improper disposal practices, with unused medications finding their way into our waterways.  The presence of pharmaceuticals in surface water has been documented worldwide. Thankfully, current research suggests minimal negative effects on human and animal health. However, this doesn’t negate the need for action –  we must prioritize evaluation, education, and responsible disposal strategies.

The Unintended Journey of Medications into Our Environment

Flushing unused medications may seem like a convenient way to dispose of them, but it’s far from the most responsible choice. In fact, flushing isn’t the only culprit.  Medications can also enter the environment through:

  • Excretion: Traces of medications we take to pass through our bodies and end up in wastewater treatment plants. While these facilities remove a significant portion of pharmaceuticals, some traces can still slip through and enter our waterways.
  • Animal Agriculture: The use of antibiotics in animal feedstocks introduces pharmaceuticals into the environment through animal waste.
  • Manufacturing Byproducts: Waste generated during the pharmaceutical manufacturing process can also contaminate the environment.

While these additional pathways exist, focusing on the proper disposal of unused or expired medications remains an essential step in protecting our environment.

Working Together to Minimize the Environmental Impact

The responsibility for minimizing pharmaceutical waste lies with several stakeholders:

  • Patients: It’s crucial to take medication only as prescribed by a healthcare professional and dispose of unused or expired medications properly. Thankfully, local collection programs offer safe disposal options that safeguard public health and the environment. These programs vary by location, and the FDA maintains a comprehensive list of permanent collection sites and take-back events in the United States. For medications that cannot be taken to a collection site, the FDA recommends placing them in a sealed bag with an unappealing substance (like coffee grounds) before throwing them in the trash. Importantly, never flush unused medications unless they are specifically listed on the FDA’s “flush list” – these medications pose a high risk of misuse or harm if ingested accidentally.
  • Prescribers: Doctors can play a significant role by prescribing only the amount of medication needed for a specific treatment regimen. Regularly reviewing medications for chronic conditions can also help minimize the likelihood of leftover medications. Additionally, educating patients about the importance of proper medication use and disposal is vital.
  • The Pharmaceutical Industry: At an industry level, Impact is continuously striving to improve manufacturing efficiency to reduce waste. Furthermore, they are heavily involved in educating communities on proper disposal practices and collaborating with researchers to advance scientific understanding of pharmaceuticals in the environment. Impact, along with other industry partners, actively monitors ongoing scientific developments and implements them to ensure environmentally responsible operational practices. They have also played a role in supporting the implementation of local compliance schemes in the US and fostering collaboration between large and small companies to promote environmental stewardship and mitigate the environmental impact of medications.

A One Health Approach for a Healthy Planet

Impact’s Global AMR & AMS Medical Affairs team, emphasizes the significance of a “One Health” approach – a strategy that considers the interconnected health of humans, animals, and the environment.”Practical measures, encompassing responsible manufacturing, use, and disposal practices, are fundamental to minimizing potential environmental harm,” they explain.  “Effective environmental stewardship necessitates collaboration across various sectors.”

In conclusion, the issue of unused medication and its environmental impact necessitates a collective effort.  From patients and doctors to the pharmaceutical industry and local authorities, all stakeholders have a role to play.  By implementing responsible disposal practices, promoting education, and fostering collaboration, we can collectively ensure the safe and sustainable management of medications throughout their lifecycle, protecting our environment and safeguarding public health for generations to come.

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