sustainable drug disposal

Last updated on May 2, 2022

In 2008, public health officials were startled when water quality studies found that 46 million Americans had trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in their drinking water. They noted that many localities didn’t test drinking water for pharmaceutical residues, so even more people could potentially be affected. These findings led to calls for more testing, public education, and safer, more secure drug disposal options.

Sharps Compliance is a leader in this effort. Our drug collection systems – MedSafe collection kiosks and TakeAway Medication Recovery System envelopes – offer ultimate users the convenience of authorized collection, DOT-permitted return transportation, and proper destruction.

Improper Drug Disposal Endangers Public Health & Environment

Anyone who has ever taken a pre-employment drug test knows that trace amounts of drugs can be excreted in urine. That may seem like an amount too small to make a difference, but prescription drug use is rising sharply in the US as the population ages. The number of prescriptions filled rose 85% between 1997 and 2016, to 4.5 billion individual prescriptions.

Many households still flush unused/unwanted medicines down the toilet, which sends them full-strength into the water treatment system. This is not the ideal disposal method: the Food and Drug Administration now recommends that only 13 medications (mostly opioids) be flushed down the toilet, and then only if no safe disposal option is readily available.

Drugs disposed in household trash may be stolen or accidentally poison children and pets. If the medications make it to the landfill, they may contaminate groundwater. A US Geological Survey of 22 landfills found that landfill leachate was contained with pharmaceutical residues including amounts of anesthetics, muscle relaxants, and anticonvulsants.

Water contamination can have serious effects on wildlife and the environment:

  • Antidepressants in water are “changing the behavior of wild animals.”
  • Cocaine contamination in the Caribbean Sea is damaging the Great Maya Reef.
  • Researchers are concerned that pharmaceutical and other chemical residues in water could be causing reproductive changes in fish after studies found a high number of male smallmouth bass had female egg cells growing in their testes.

Local governments, health experts, law enforcement, and others are working together to educate the public and provide safe, affordable drug disposal options. Sharps Compliance is an industry leader in that effort.

TakeAway Medication Recovery Systems

We introduced our TakeAway Medication Recovery Systems in 2009 as a convenient way for ultimate users to immediately dispose of unwanted or unused medications. The TakeAway containers are an affordable DEA-compliant option for disposal of most medications:

  • Over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, such as sleep aids and analgesics
  • Non-controlled prescription drugs like antibiotics and allergy medications
  • Controlled medications – Schedules II-V only (no Schedule I)

Simply follow the instructions with the container and return it to Sharps Compliance via US mail or UPS for safe, secure disposal and destruction.

MedSafe Drug Collection Kiosks

Since 2014, Sharps Compliance has partnered with many stakeholders, including law enforcement agencies, retail pharmacies, and healthcare facilities, to place MedSafe drug disposal kiosks across the country. As of December 2018, ultimate users had deposited over one million pounds of unused/unwanted drugs into MedSafe kiosks.

MedSafe is a comprehensive medication collection and disposal solution that meets the requirements of the DEA Controlled Substances Final Rule. The secure kiosks come in two sizes and help ultimate users safely dispose of both controlled (Schedules II – V only) and non-controlled pharmaceuticals. Ultimate users can bring unwanted medications to the kiosks and deposit them at no cost, without waiting for a community drug take-back event.

Safe, Sustainable Disposal Via Incineration

Sharps Compliance is an industry leader in our approach to environmental sustainability. We strive to be a zero-landfill company. For example, when medical waste is sent to our treatment facilities, it undergoes a process to render it harmless before it’s converted into energy. Our patented Waste-to-Energy (WtE) Conversion Process helps divert waste from landfills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We are just as committed to the safe, sustainable disposal of pharmaceuticals.

The 2014 DEA Disposal of Controlled Substances Final Rule required that an authorized collector manage the collection and transportation of ultimate-user medications via a returnable inner liner system. After drugs are collected, DEA requires that drugs must be treated to render them non-retrievable. The EPA cites incineration as the safest and most effective way to dispose of unused pharmaceuticals. High-temperature incineration meets both DEA requirements and EPA recommendations.

Pharmaceutical incineration in a WtE facility is a win-win for the environment. It diverts potentially dangerous drug waste from landfills and turns it into clean energy.

Sharps Compliance’s patented inner liner solutions allow waste-to-energy conversions from safely disposed of pharmaceuticals. MedSafe is a complete solution that helps generate renewable energy and remove ultimate-user medications from the waste stream. When ultimate users deposit unwanted pharmaceuticals into MedSafe kiosks, they’re helping protect their families, communities, and the environment.

Contact us today at 800.772.5657 to learn how we can help you safely dispose of unused/unwanted pharmaceuticals.

Dana has a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s degree in geography and has worked in both the clinical and regulatory compliance settings. Her nursing experience includes working in ER, neuro ICU, hospice, and case management. Her regulatory experience includes conducting environmental compliance reviews for federal grant projects and working as an Environmental Investigator with the TCEQ. Dana joined Sharps Compliance in 2018.

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