Drug take-back: A call for a permanent solution
Behind astonishing U.S. pharmaceutical sales that reach $400 billion a year, an alarming 2.8 million pounds of prescription medications go unused. This staggering amount of unused medications raises a public health concern and emphasizes the need for drug take-back.
All players involved in the drug-product chain — pharmaceutical companies, distributors, pharmacies, and the government — must collaborate to design and implement an effective drug disposal and collection system. Pharmacists, in particular, must be proactive in supporting this movement to protect the health and safety of patients and consumers.
Human and environmental hazards
Unused medications are often stored in the home, thrown into the trash, or flushed down the toilet.
Medications stored in homes are dangerous sources of drug diversion that often results in abuse and accidental poisoning. At least 62% of teens use prescription drugs taken from their parents’ medicine cabinets, thinking that Rx meds are safer than illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Prescription drug misuse has contributed to nearly 600,000 visits to U.S. emergency rooms and account for up to 85% of unintentional poisoning and deaths, many involving children and elderly.
It is essential to dispose of unused medications. However, the improper disposal of drugs flushed into our waterways threatens the ecosystem. Pharmaceuticals have been detected in streams and drinking water across the country. Most commonly found are acetaminophen, metformin, and carbamazepine, as well as antibiotics, a grave concern in light of growing bacterial resistance. Traces of medications have disrupted the development and reproduction of aquatic organisms; for example, they have had a feminizing effect on male fish and have altered the male-to-female ratio.
Challenges in today’s system
Biannual events hosted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have not been able to sustain the ongoing public demand. The situation has become more complex now that the DEA has chosen to stop sponsoring national event and instead is allowing entities such as manufacturers and pharmacies to voluntarily provide mail-back programs and on-site drug collection receptacles (kiosks or bins).