This was going to be a quick and easy post pinching the above video my mate Ves had on his blog showing the making of a information graphic for the National Geographic article Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water. Here’s the link to the full size illustration.
But that idea went down the toilet (but not with any pharmaceuticals) when Ben from the Health Impact Assessment Blog sent me an article titled Drugs in the Environment: Do Pharmaceutical Take-Back Programs Make a Difference?. With this topic being a bit of a favourite of mine (here and here) along with me recently viewing a few videos of the inane way drug disposal is carried out in the States I couldn’t help myself.
Removing unwanted and unneeded pharmaceuticals from the home and also from waste reduces the chance of misuse. That in itself is an important enough reason for a removal program. However the article also states:
The bulk of human pharmaceuticals found in waterways most likely got there by way of sewage. Taking unused pharmaceuticals out of landfills may make only a small difference in the concentrations of APIs found in water, say critics and supporters alike of such programs.
The article looks at the SMARxT Disposal™ program:
a partnership of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Pharmacists Association, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America recommends that medications be crushed and/or dissolved, mixed with kitty litter or other unappealing material (to discourage consumption), then enclosed in a container or sealable baggie before disposal in the trash.
In reading the article, despite a box talking of waste drugs flushed or placed into septic systems I get the feeling that they assume flushing medications down the toilet is not a huge problem and what appears in the sewage and waterways is entirely from urinary excretion into the sewage system.
Perhaps I am reading it wrong. But I can’t believe the majority of waste drugs is disposed of using the “approved” method. Look for yourself. Would you dispose of your unwanted medications this way each time?
No, I thought not.
The article is quite informative at looking at all aspects of the waste pharmaceutical process in the USA highlighting cases of drugs in waterways affecting fish populations, land fills, accepted and approved waste disposal methods and the hurdles in implementing “take back” programs. Compare this to Australia where the Return of Unwanted Medicines Project has been running for twelve years. A simple motto:
Consumers can return medicines
TO ANY PHARMACY – ANYTIME
The article highlights an unhealthy obsession about drugs, even waste drugs in the USA, worrying about diversion and legalities of who can accept them back. I think it goes to the absurd when we have to take back our out of date paracetamol to the police station for disposal.
Reference: Lubick N 2010. Drugs in the Environment: Do Pharmaceutical Take-Back Programs Make a Difference? Environ Health Perspect 118:a210-a214. doi:10.1289/ehp.118-a210