Daily Editors' Notes

What to do with unused meds

Share this article:

There is more and more talk in state legislatures of finding new ways to dispose of unused medications at healthcare facilities. This is an idea whose time has come.

The amount of drug waste that nursing homes and hospitals generate is unsettling. If a nursing home resident has a bad reaction to a drug, dies, or gets discharged, typically a whole 30-day supply bubble card is thrown away. That's a lot of pills. The Associated Press estimated in a 2009 investigation that at least 250 million pounds of pharmaceuticals and contaminated packaging are generated in medical facilities each year.

The poor, unsuspecting victim of our unused medications is our water supply. Flushing drugs down the toilet contaminates our water, and, by extension, us. And throwing them in the trash isn't necessarily the answer as drugs in landfills still may leech into the groundwater.

Several states have proposed legislation to find new, more environmentally friendly ways to reuse or store the drugs. Some of the ideas have multiple benefits. State Sen. Lois Tochtrop (D) in Colorado recently proposed that nursing homes save drugs to be shipped to Haiti. What could be a better use of unused medication than that?

Another bill in Minnesota would prevent all healthcare facilities from flushing down pharmaceuticals. It and other states also are proposing that pharmaceutical companies pick up the expense for picking up drug waste from people's homes (not nursing homes).

There is some pushback from the pharmaceutical industry. Lobbyists argue that concentrations of pharmaceuticals found in water are extremely low, and are not known to harm humans. Most of what ends up in the water is medicine that people take and excrete, they said, not unwanted meds that are flushed away.

That could be true, but why take the risk? And here's a better reason to find new ways to dispose of unused drugs: If they could benefit people here and around the world, why let them go down the drain?

Share this article:
close

Next Article in Daily Editors' Notes

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

    ALL MCKNIGHT'S BLOGS

    More in Daily Editors' Notes

    Some unsolicited advice to Genesis: Good luck with the new 'owners'

    Some unsolicited advice to Genesis: Good luck with ...

    This week's blockbuster deal has private equity-backed Genesis HealthCare combining with Skilled Healthcare Group.In some ways, these sorts of marriages seem all but inevitable. After all, in the outcomes-based post-acute ...

    AALNA falters in conference dates

    AALNA falters in conference dates

    Hey, did you hear the one about the long-term care conference that was scheduled on Christmas? Of course you didn't, because it would never happen.

    Quality soars in long-term care

    Quality soars in long-term care

    Much like a parent raising a child — a topic on my mind this week as I send my oldest son to college — dedicated advocates have long encouraged long-term ...