AP Round 2: Even More Drugs in Our Water!

    [released September 18, 2008]

    With a series of press releases last week, the Associated Press provided additional details about the emerging problem of trace pharmaceuticals in our nation's water supply. These reports are follow-up to the original AP series last March which triggered both federal and local legislative hearings into a problem which the public is becomming more aware of by the day.

    In the first of these press releases, AP reports that Health facilities flush an estimated 250 million pounds of drugs a year. These discarded medications are expired, over-prescribed, or unneeded. Some are simply unused because patients refuse to take them, can't tolerate them or die with nearly full 90-day supplies of multiple prescriptions on their nightstands. AP goes on to describe these contaminants as "a scary mix" and "major pollutants of concern."

    In a companion release, AP also reported that Drugs are in the drinking water of more Americans. Testing prompted by last March's AP story has shown that at least 46 million Americans have trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in their drinking water supply, an increase from last March's estimate of 41 million. The actual number may well be even higher because the vast majority of U.S. cities have not yet tested their drinking water supplies.

    AP has also started to highlight the unique challenges of properly disposing of narcotics and other controlled substances. As the AP indicates, Narcotics are under tight control -- until it's time to dump them. While federal regulators impose strict rules to keep controlled drugs out of the wrong hands, these same rules practically force hospitals to dispose of these drugs down sinks or toilets rather than send them to landfills or incinerators.

    While hospitals and other health care facilities generate much of the pharmaceutical waste, AP also reports that consumers looking for guidance are finding that Relatively little advice is offered on disposal of medications. AP examined hundreds of instructions provided with the most common prescribed medications and found that Americans are almost never told how to safely dispose of any unwanted or unused drugs.

    Charlotte Smith, PharmEcology’s president, notes that the continuing awareness generated by the AP articles, plus the recent focus by EPA’s Office of Water on the healthcare industry, should encourage healthcare facilities to move forward with their pharmaceutical waste management programs. She also noted that "PharmEcology is responding to this increased concern by enhancing our waste stream recommendations to include those items which may be sewered or managed as solid waste, such as dextrose, saline, bran, etc., and those that should be incinerated as non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste under Best Management Practices".

    PharmEcology® Associates, LLC of Wauwatosa, WI was founded in 2000 and provides pharmaceutical waste management consulting services to the healthcare industry through seminars, on-site risk assessments, and other custom consulting services, in addition to the PharmE® Waste Wizard and PharmE® Inventory Analysis. Contact us at 414-292-3959 or email us at info@pharmecology.com.