Pharmaceutical Waste: A Healthcare Worker’s Guide

Pharmaceutical Waste: A Healthcare Worker’s Guide


It’s a beautiful day on the waters of
Washington State, and that’s why we love it here. But under the surface things
aren’t quite so nice. These fish are on drugs.
Literally. Puget Sound’s salmon have been found with Prozac, Lipitor, and antibiotics galore. Some water samples in Washington contained
a cocktail of 81 different drugs. How can this be happening? Meanwhile, Phil, a physician’s assistant
in an emergency room, is administering Valium to a patient
using a pre-filled syringe. The syringe contains more Valium than he needs, so he squirts the rest of the liquid down the drain. This discarded medicine now makes its way
through the sewer to the local wastewater treatment plant, a facility that removes debris and treats human waste but not pharmaceuticals. So it gets released into our rivers, our lakes, the Sound and our fish friends end up on drugs. It’s a serious problem. As a healthcare provider on the front lines, you can help reduce the amount of pharmaceutical
waste reaching our waters. You work hard to care for your patients whether they’re children, adults, senior citizens, or someone’s pet. You administer medications to alleviate pain, fight disease, get patients back on their feet,
and to save lives. But in the course of this work
a lot of pharmaceutical waste is generated – partial vials of drugs, expired pills, IV bags – These products, when disposed of improperly, can end up polluting our streams and lakes and cause serious damage to our environment. For example, some drugs disrupt hormones, even causing fish to change sex. And they can impact our own health if we
unsuspectingly consume them over time. By putting waste medications in the proper place,
you’ll follow the law and help protect our drinking water, our food, our
kids, our animals, and our world. So what does this mean for you? We have some rules to remember
that will help guide proper disposal. Don’t put unused meds into the
red sharps container or biohazard bags. Don’t squirt them out
or dump them into linens. Don’t put them down the sink or toilet. Don’t put them in the trash. In other words, no meds in the red. No meds in the bed. Don’t dump drugs down the drain or toss them in the trash. Medications thrown in the red sharps container, biohazard bag, linens, sink, toilet, or trash go to a landfill or sewage treatment plant. These facilities don’t have the technology to filter out pharmaceuticals or treat them. Some clinics try to make pharmaceutical waste
non-retrievable by mixing it with coffee grounds or kitty litter. We don’t recommend this. It doesn’t destroy the drugs and putting these mixtures in the trash
can land your facility a costly penalty. If you see waste pharmaceuticals being improperly disposed of in these ways, speak up! Talk to the person in charge of waste management. Okay, if we don’t put pharmaceutical waste into the red sharps container or biohazard bag, we don’t empty it into the sink or toilet, we don’t throw it in the trash, we don’t discharge it into linens… then, where should it go? Your facility should have bins that are
clearly labeled and easy to find for all different types of
pharmaceutical and medical waste: sharps containers, biohazard bags, soiled linen bins, and pharmaceutical waste containers. Each facility may have a different system but no matter what system your facility uses caregivers should be able
to easily find where to put pharmaceutical waste. Remember Phil? Remember the medication he put down the drain? That medication
should have gone into a pharmaceutical waste bin. Those medications are sent to a facility that can properly destroy them. If you don’t have these types of pharmaceutical waste bins at your facility, please ask your administrators or your waste service provider to get them. We have valuable natural resources to
protect here in the Pacific Northwest. We love Washington and want to keep it as pristine as possible for everyone. We need to make an effort to minimize the
contaminants that get into our drinking water, soil, and waterways. Properly disposing of pharmaceutical waste
is one way to help. You are our first line of defense against this type of pollution. And remember, it’s the law. If you have questions or concerns about the proper disposal of pharmaceutical waste, please contact your team’s Environmental Services Manager. Or ask us. Visit ecology.wa.gov and search pharmaceutical waste.

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