I've posted before on the unfortunate tendency of excreted pharmaceuticals to accumulate in the environment. The ecotoxicological effects are becoming increasingly worrisome, especially those related to birth-control pills, antibiotics, and antidepressants (the latter two, of course, are massively overprescribed and misused).
To make matters worse, it turns out that the law actually forbids responsible disposal of unused and expired drugs:
This is something Grace Welham, a Dean Health System pharmacist, discovered earlier this year. Working on a newsletter for Dean Health, she thought a clever theme for her April pamphlet would be a medicine cabinet "spring cleaning."You have to admire this thinking, unless your heart is as cold and inert as formica. Before you can contaminate the environment with a pharmaceutical, you must first add to the bulk and toxicity of your waste by packaging it redundantly in plastic and duct tape.
It didn't take her long to realize her patients had one of two options: "You can flush them - or place them in a plastic container taped shut with duct tape, which then has to be placed into another duct-taped plastic container, and toss that in the trash."
Why not take 'em back to the pharmacist? Extended producer responsibility laws are all the rage, after all, and this is a case where they make even more sense than usual.
It turns out that in this instance, the possibility of a take-back program is severely curtailed by federal law:
Pharmacies can't take back unused medications because of concerns they'll work their way back into the system. Before anyone can collect used drugs, an armed DEA officer or sheriff's deputy must be present, along with a written manifest, and a licensed pharmacist.On top of which, there are laws regulating the transportation of pharmaceuticals, which limit the ability of local municipalities to collect them through HHW programs:
That came as a disappointment to Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District officials, who had proposed piggybacking pharmaceutical disposal with their mobile hazardous waste collection program. The sewerage district sets up various sites in Milwaukee County on certain days throughout the year, to allow residents to dispose of hazardous household goods such as pesticides and paints.The article goes on to say that Milwaukee is working on a take-back program that'll meet federal requirements; that's an idea every municipality should be looking into. In the meantime, the DEA is said to be "looking for possible solutions"...hardly comforting, given that agency's history of incompetence and irrelevance. Clearly, the laws need to be changed to make safe pharmaceutical disposal mandatory, rather than an inconvenient option.