Prescription drug abuse is a growing epidemic in the United States. Opioids, depressants and stimulants are the most abused medications. According to the Los Angeles Times, the leading cause of death from unintentional injuries in the U.S. is drug-related poisonings, which has surpassed automobile accidents. Between 1999 and 2006, deaths from drug poisoning have almost doubled. The first step towards preventing drug abuse is proper medication disposal.
Nurses practicing in senior care have very busy work schedules. From caring for patients to distributing medications to updating records, their days can become overwhelming. One of the more time-consuming tasks is the disposal of unused medication.
When a resident’s medication is permanently discontinued, it must be properly disposed. Prior to updates to the 2014 Drug Enforcement Agency’s regulations which implemented the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010, few safe, efficient and environmentally-preferred options were available to communities for controlled drug disposal. Typically, the Director of Nursing and another nurse would itemize the drugs to be destroyed and then undertake the time-consuming task of emptying them out of their containers or blister packs. Removing individual pills from blister packs can not only be time-consuming (and therefore, costly) but also painful and difficult. Once removed, the drugs were typically placed into the toilet or mixed with an undesirable substance, such as kitty litter or dissolved in a chemical prior to putting them into the trash. After all of the medication was removed and destroyed, the residents’ identifying information on the packaging had to be concealed and disposed of safely to prevent disclosure of protected health information.
In our last blog post, we explored how prescription drug abuse has become an epidemic in the United States. This week we will discuss how to prevent prescription drug abuse and what to do with any unused medications.
Many opioid abusers get the prescription drugs from friends or relatives for free, according to a study by JAMA Internal Medicine. Other sources include getting a prescription from one or more doctors, stealing or buying prescription drugs from friends or family and buying prescription drugs from drug dealers.1
Prescription drug abuse has become a growing epidemic in the United States. Fifty-two million people over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs non-medically at least once during their lifetime.1 Every day 44 people die from an overdose of painkillers.2 Prescription drug abuse occurs when drugs have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties and are not taken as prescribed or are taken by someone to whom they were not prescribed.3 The most abused types of drugs are opioids, followed by tranquilizers and stimulants.4
Opioids are pain medications that decrease the strength of pain signals to the brain and affect those brain areas controlling emotion, which reduces the effects of a painful stimulus. Opioids include oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (e.g., Kadian) and hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin). Since these drugs affect the regions of the brain responsible for reward, some users may experience a euphoric reaction.5
Medicines improve our quality of life, but there are some important issues regarding the proper disposal of unneeded or unwanted medicines. The disposal of pharmaceuticals when no longer needed poses a threat to our environment. Sharps Compliance has developed a program to manage these unwanted pharmaceuticals safely and in compliance with all federal, state, and local laws and regulations.
One of the ramifications of mismanagement of unused medications is the environmental effects resulting from poor pharmaceutical disposal practices. Through the years, pharmaceuticals have been largely discarded through either flushing or “sinking” them into the wastewater stream or discarding them into the solid waste stream. In the first instance, the wastewater is treated to remove physical, chemical, and biological contaminants, such as sediment, bacteria, and viruses. However, this treatment does not remove all organic molecules, which are inherent in pharmaceuticals. Thus, many of these molecules remain entrained in the treated waste water which is discharged into reservoirs, rivers, or lakes. Likewise, drugs disposed of as solid waste (into landfills) may leach these organic molecules into aquifers and into the fresh water supply.