Unused Pharmaceuticals Where Do They End Up

Hundreds of different active pharmaceutical compounds are being discovered in waterways around the world. Concern is increasing about the harm these might be doing to human health and the environment.

Whilst pharmaceutical residues can enter the environment during the production, consumption and disposal, incorrect disposal of
household pharmaceutical waste is considered the second major pathway into the environment.

Proper collection and disposal of household pharmaceutical waste can contribute to reducing the impact of pharmaceuticals in the environment. Effective collection schemes would divert unused medicines from mixed waste streams that are not designed to deal specifically with pharmaceutical products.

Directive 2004/27/EC (relating to medicinal products for human use) introduces an obligation for Member States to implement appropriate collection schemes for unused pharmaceutical products. However, it does not provide any guidelines on implementation of schemes and a number of studies have pointed to significant differences between Member States.

In Ireland, where up until now pharmacies are responsible for all the expenses of the collection scheme (the legislation is currently under revision), there are reports of pharmacies accepting unused medicines all year but then waiting for the national annual campaign sponsored by the Health and Safety Executive to get rid of the collected medicines, thus avoiding any costs related to the disposal.

An ideal collection scheme, as proposed by Health Care Without Harm Europe, would be:

• Easy to use and accessible
• Funded by the Pharmaceutical Industry Groups
• Free of charge for the public
• Well-communicated so that people are motivated to participate
• Able to sort and recycle packaging
• Safe for public heath, by ensuring collected residues cannot be tampered with
• Responsible for the chemical deactivation of pharmaceutical waste

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