Pharmaceutical Waste In Focus


Faced with mounting evidence that a majority of waterways contain pharmaceutical compounds, legislators have begun the search for solutions to this vexing problem. The improper disposal of unused pharmaceuticals is a major contributor to the pharmaceutical pollution problem.

Pharmaceutical Pollution: Why is it a Problem?

The United States Geological Survey have found that 80% of the waterways they have searched for contain trace amounts of pharmaceutical compounds. While trace amounts of pharmaceuticals have unknown affects on humans, they have a demonstrated, negative affect on certain wildlife, such as fish. Trace amounts of antidepressants in particular, which are found in may waterways, cause abnormalities in the fish reproductive cycle.

How Does the Improper Disposal of Pharmaceuticals Contribute to this Problem?

Currently there are few safe ways to dispose of unused pharmaceuticals. When the expiration date of a medication has passed or they are no longer needed, most consumers either flush pharmaceuticals down the drain or toss them in the trash. Neither method is desirable. Pharmaceuticals disposed of through the sewer system are generally not removed by waste treatment facilities and thus are able to enter our watersheds. Pharmaceuticals disposed of in landfills can seep into the surrounding watertable in much the same way that other hazardous wastes do, such as heavy metals. Despite the fact that the body of evidence on the harm of pharmaceutical compounds has raised alarm in many policy circles, including at the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, there is as yet no consistent message on the proper method of disposal of pharmaceutical waste.

How Would a Pharmacy Take Back Model of Unused Drugs Help?

The Office of National Drug Control Policy has highlighted pharmaceutical take back centers as the best way to dispose of unused pharmaceuticals. However, before the passage of SB 966 (Simitian), significant regulatory hurdles existed that prevented such centers from being implemented on a state-wide level. SB 966 (Simitian) directs CalRecycle, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, and other state agencies to development model takeback programs of pharmaceuticals that may be implemented by local governments, retailers and other organizations.

Learn more about the first US pharmaceutical takeback ordinance from Alameda County, passed in 2012 and effective November 2013.