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Drug Disposal/Take Backs

GPhA Position

Prescription medications are critical to maintaining health and improving the quality of life for millions of Americans. However, for a variety of reasons, not all of the prescription dispensed to a patient ends up being consumed and the unused drugs often are disposed of improperly. New analytical techniques capable of identifying material concentrations in amounts as little as one-part-per-trillion has enabled the detection of very low trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in water and soil.  Reports of the presence of pharmaceutical compounds in the environmental understandably have sparked public concern and have prompted some authorities to consider various “pharmaceutical waste” initiatives. GPhA supports the safe disposal of unused drugs and urges legislators and policymakers to join industry in promoting robust public education campaigns to teach consumers the importance of properly discarding unused medicines.

Key Points
  • Protecting water supplies against contamination from household chemicals and other dangerous wastes is not a new issue. The history of legislation dealing with naturally-occurring and man-made contaminants in drinking water in the U.S. begins with the 1899 Rivers and Harbors Act and continues through the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act.
  • Recently developed hi-tech equipment has made it possible to detect trace amounts of consumer household chemicals, including pharmaceutical molecules, in surface waters at trace levels of nanograms per liter (ng/l), i.e., parts-per-trillion (ppt). One part-per-trillion is comparable to one penny out of 10 billion dollars, or one second in 32,000 years. It is only because of this advanced technology that any amount of pharmaceutical material can even be detected in water supplies
  • To date, there is no scientific evidence, analytical data or published peer reviewed reports showing that the extremely low concentrations of pharmaceutical materials in water poses any risks to humans. A study of human health risks for 26 pharmaceuticals found in U.S. waters, which was conducted using U.S. EPA standard worst-case exposure methods, concluded that those detectable pharmaceutical residues under worst-case scenarios presented no demonstrable risk to human health.

GPhA Efforts

  • GPhA participates in a coalition of industry, scientific experts and academia, as well as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Pharmacists Association and others, all committed to working with policymakers to openly address concerns and help provide factual answers to these questions.

  • GPhA supports efforts to raise awareness about the proper disposed of pharmaceuticals and the importance of ensuring that unused medicines are not collected in a way that might increase the opportunity for misuse of prescription drugs.  These efforts include consumer education programs explaining the proper way to dispose of unused medications; public awareness campaigns aimed at discouraging disposal by flushing or by pouring the  medicines down the drain; and continued scientific research on evaluating any potential long-term risks to humans, plants and wildlife from trace concentrations of pharmaceuticals in the environment.

  • GPhA supports the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.  The DEA program, which takes place with the cooperation of nearly 4,000 state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide, collects expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs that can be a potentially dangerous source of diversion if left in the family’s medicine cabinet.


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