Author: James E. Buchanan III
Our modern-day society is virtually inundated with hundreds, if not thousands of advertisements that feature prescription drug cures for various symptoms or illnesses. The privately owned, mega-drug companies will probably never take the average consumer into careful consideration; when testing, marketing, distributing, and disposing of the very items that make the corporate owned and operated drug conglomerates billions of dollars every year. Consumers at the grass root level must take into consideration that the corporate drug companies’ main objective is to make as much profit as humanly possible; all at the prescription drug consumers’ expense. Citizens must mobilize at the community level and pressure our local, state, and federal leaders; to hold the drug companies’ accountable for their wayward actions. Understanding the very daunting task of maintaining an acceptable degree of healthy life skills and habits seems to plague Americans every time they turn on virtually any type of media-related communication device; be it their televisions, laptops, PDA systems, or Personal PC.
We must admit that the American consumer is swamped with marketing ads that promise relief from pain for things such as back pain, headaches, and mood disorders, to name only a fraction. We are going to focus on the dismal results of the humongous drug ad campaigns of the privately held companies. Secondly, we will examine the effect of the active and inactive chemicals that drug factories discard each year upon the environment. Lastly, we will craft a possible solution to the problem of water contamination by drug companies; and the lasting legacy that we could leave for the next generation if we would mobilize our efforts. Recognizing, understanding, and becoming pro-active are the three major ways in which citizens will be able to take back power from the drug lobbyists; and place it back into the hands of the consumer.
According to an ongoing Associated Press special investigation, many U.S. hospitals and long-term care facilities are discarding unused drug chemicals directly into America’s drinking water. According to, Mary Ludlow, a representative of White Oak Pharmacy, a Spartanburg, S.C. firm that serves a total of 15 individual long-term care and assisted-living residences in the Carolinas quickly acknowledges, “Obviously we’re flushing them ---- which is not ideal,” Donn, J., Mendoza, M, Pritchard, J. (2008, October, 14). When drug producing factories continually pump unused active and inactive chemicals into our drinking water we, the drug consumer are potentially at risk of our drinking water being infected; or ever worse, contaminated with a harmful foreign virus. A French medical research study revealed that hospital wastewater samples had the capability to mutate genes. A similar Swiss research study showed laboratory instances that fluoroquinolone antibiotics have the ability to change bacterial DNA.
This discovery has raised the very valid question of whether certain drug combinations that various companies currently use have possibilities of raising the risk of cancer in humans. Even though most pharmaceutical waste is either incinerated or sent to land-fills, it is almost common knowledge that most of the excess drug waste that is produced in the world is either dumped in mass quantities into our lakes and rivers by drug companies, or into our own personal sinks and toilets. More times than not, no state or federal laws are broken when we discard harmful pharmaceutical waste.
An internal Environmental Protection Agency memorandum, dated last year, included pharmaceuticals’ on a list of, “major pollutants of concern,” at health care facilities. Even though this may be true, very few medical centers keep any records at all that tabulate the gross amounts of harmful chemicals that they dump into our drinking water every year. At a state prison in , Minn., Nurse Linda Peterson revealed that the prison hospital has been discarding up-wards of 12,000 pills a year. “We flush it and flush it and flush it ---- until we can’t see any more pills,” she says. Also noting the presence of another prison, a hospital, and nursing homes in the same general area, Nurse Peterson states, “So what are all these facilities doing if we’re throwing away about 700 to 1,000 pills a month?” The Associated Press estimates the annual amount of pharmaceutical waste from hospitals and long-term care facilities to be at least 250 million pounds, (these numbers do not include drug waste from veterinary or doctors’ offices). These much smaller operations, much like the rest, dispose of their drug waste with very little precautionary measures at all. Alan Davidner, president of Vestara of Irvine, CA, says that his limited sampling concerning the extent of pharmaceutical waste disposal could be even higher. Evidence pointing to the rising problem of pharmaceutical waste disposal is crystal clear ---- the dumping of pharmaceutical waste into our nations’ drinking water systems is increasingly becoming not only an environmental concern, but a nationwide health concern as well. At present, the minute concentrations of potentially harmful drug chemicals in our drinking water have the potential to affect at least 46 million Americans. This potential scourge of pharmaceutical waste must be solved before it slowly grows to epidemic proportions.
It is not a difficult task in any way to predict the future outcome of pharmaceutical waste dumping in the U.S.; if we continue to collectively refuse to heed the major warning signals that research scientists continue to deliver to us year & and year out. Researchers, scientists, and select members of the health care community would all tend to agree, that extremely diluted concentrations of pharmaceutical drug matter in our rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans harm fish, frogs, ducks, turtles, and other fresh water and salt water species, (some of which, are main staples for many families).
In order for humans to continue to thrive at the top of the proverbial food chain, we must re-evaluate our special place and function in the environment. If we flatly refuse to do so, we would be committing a grave disservice to, not only our present generation, but many possible generations to come. We cannot continue to squander the earths’ resources; while at the same time refusing to put back or dispose of waste in eco-friendly ways.
The bottom line is simply this, hospital, long-term care facilities, and other health related organizations are, knowingly or unknowingly, literally poisoning our main sources of fresh drinking water with extremely harmful germs and deadly antibiotics. If federal legislation regulating the disposal of pharmaceutical waste dumping is not passed soon, in years to come, we will be unable to enjoy the awesome beauty and serenity of our National Parks, Wildlife Reserves, and public and private campgrounds across the U.S.
Environmental professionals are presently vying to make in-roads to possibly receive a golden chance to eventually present their findings to federal authorities, that the incineration of pharmaceutical waste is, in fact, the safest method to dispose of drug waste. This method of drug waste discarding is currently being utilized by, Elastec, Inc., who specializes in the environmentally sound incineration of medical waste, Elastec, Inc., (2005, Sept). If successful, this finding by environmental professionals outside the annals of the federal government could make way for future state and federal legislation; that would regulate the disposal of pharmaceutical waste by utilizing the environmentally sound method of incineration. Laura Brannen, an executive at Health-care Solutions in Houston, TX, had this to say concerning incineration of pharmaceutical waste, “That’s the best practice for today because we don’t really know what the hell to do with the stuff.” A select few states have passed legislation to make it easier for health care organizations to be able to donate their unused prescription drugs to community pharmacies that target low-income patients. This idea is in effect a win-win situation. Health-care organizations are not only able properly discard their excess pharmaceuticals, but they are also doing a great service to lower income patients who are in need of medicine; which they probably could not afford at the retail price. A third solution, while yet in the experimental stages, is the discarding of pharmaceutical waste through employing the use of an electric arc, microwaves, or caustic chemicals. Although this method may sound futuristic in nature, it may really become the most cost effective way to discard of pharmaceutical waste in years to come. Yet another cost effective idea, (that would in effect benefit the drug companies), is to ship a small portion of unused prescription drugs back to the drug manufactures for credit --- and eventual incineration, say professional waste consultants.
Many long-term residential care facilities would like to deploy prescription drug-dispensing machines that suppliers would refill on a continual basis to reduce wasted packaging. By deploying prescription drug vending machines on site, at long-term residential facilities across the U.S. would be an indispensable way to help to control the excessive amounts of drug waste that comes from our nations long-term care facilities, (since long-term care facilities produce the highest amounts of drug waste than any other health care branch). Fewer materials would be used to print labels, because private vendors would continually deliver fresh medicine on site to long-term care facilities.
Less stress would be placed on the environment because the long-term care facilities would not have to continue to worry about sending out orders to drug manufactures, (who must use more costly materials to produce packaging for medication). Using private drug vendors would seemingly cut out the middle step; and bridge a direct link between the drug vendor and the long-term care facility staff. About 5 percent of prescription drugs that are produced in the U.S. have been deemed hazardous by the EPA. According to Davidner of Vestara, projected costs to incinerate pharmaceutical waste in a certified hazardous incinerator could cost around $2 a pound. To burn the same amount of waste in a regular incinerator could cost around 35 cents. Many huge drug company executives see the move to environmentally safe ways of discarding as taking away from their yearly profit margins. Tom Clark, an executive at the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, wonders: “When you can flush it down the toilet for free, why would you want to pay ---- unless there are some significant penalties?”In closing, even though we are almost constantly barraged with ads, news clippings, and commercials for new and cutting edge drug cures, citizens must continue to mobilize at the grass root levels. In doing so, the corporate drug companies and lobbyists will finally take notice that drug consumers are not only savvy prescription drug purchasers, but also well informed about the harmful effects of pharmaceutical waste on the environment. When citizens begin to band together on the community level, then state government will take notice. When the attention of state government is captured then and usually only then, the federal government would recognize that there is a need on the state level and step in. If nothing else, the debate has finally begun to decide the best methods on discarding the millions of tons in excess drugs that the U.S. produces each year. With the correct legislation in place, we have a chance to begin to clean up our environment to ensure a safe and productive future for our children’s children.