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Why Your Pharmacy Needs Effective Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal
July 27, 2022 at 7:00 AM
Prescription drugs on an orange background with a pill bottle. Orange pills.

Medication plays a vital role in the lives of many patients in formal healthcare settings and patient homes. A critical component in safe medication use is the proper disposal of unused pharmaceuticals. In fact, when pharmaceutical waste disposal is done correctly, it can help protect the environment and keep dangerous medications from falling into the wrong hands.

Luckily, our team at Preferred Waste Concepts has years of experience handling medical waste. It will not only be taken and disposed of by professionals but also meet local and state regulations. All necessary documentation will be provided to each client for accountability and regulatory compliance.

Below, we will discuss the importance of proper pharmaceutical waste disposal, including what it is, what’s considered hazardous, and the risks of not disposing of medication correctly.

What is pharmaceutical waste?

Pharmaceutical waste is defined as any leftover, unused, or expired medication that needs to be discarded. Both patients and healthcare providers produce medical waste in formal settings and in patient homes for those who manage chronic illnesses or conditions.

Is pharmaceutical waste considered hazardous?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), five to ten percent of all pharmaceutical waste is considered to be hazardous. The EPA’s classifications depend on a medicine’s chemical properties. Some states may regulate pharmaceuticals more closely than the EPA.

Types of Hazardous Waste

Disposing of hazardous pharmaceutical waste is essential because it can pose a danger to patients and those around them. A medication is considered “hazardous” if it has one of these four characteristics:

  1. Flammable: Common examples of flammable medications include alcohol-based cough syrups and aerosol cans with flammable propellants.
  2. Reactive: This type of waste interacts with other chemicals, causing explosions or generating dangerous fumes and gases. Most medications do not fall into this category.
  3. Corrosive: Medications and pharmaceuticals that are preserved in corrosive materials like nitric acid are considered dangerous. This includes acids as well as bases. It’s generally determined as corrosive by pH levels.
  4. Toxic: The EPA only designates a few chemicals as toxic in specific concentrations. To determine if something is toxic, an organization would need to have a test performed known as the toxic characteristic lead procedure. Common examples of toxic medications include mercury, silver, and selenium.

Which agencies regulate pharmaceutical waste disposal?

Many state and federal agencies regulate pharmaceutical waste disposal. These include the EPA, which regulates the disposal of pharmaceuticals through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and state boards of pharmacy.

Risks of Improper Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal

If medications are not disposed of correctly by a patient or professional, active pharmaceutical ingredients can be released into the environment. Improper drug disposal methods include flushing medications down the toilet, washing drugs down the sink, or throwing them away in the regular trash.

Disposing of drugs incorrectly can also lead to them getting out on the streets, resulting in an opioid epidemic. Leaving unused or addictive medication in your home rather than properly discarding it could lead to someone accessing the pills and abusing them.

When you’re looking for medical waste companies, choose Preferred Waste Concepts.

Don’t take on the burden of pharmaceutical waste disposal yourself. Let the reliable, OSHA-compliant team at Preferred Waste Concepts handle it for you in a manner that keeps your people and your organization safe.

With experienced drivers, expert disposal professionals, and a trusted, contracted treatment facility for final disposal, you can count on us to handle your waste disposal needs professionally and comprehensively.

Ready to work with us? To learn more or to get started, contact us now.