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By Paul Losch

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About this blog: I was a "corporate brat" growing up and lived in different parts of the country, ending in Houston, Texas for high school. After attending college at UC Davis, and getting an MBA at Harvard, I embarked on a marketing career, mai...  (More)

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Recycling Medications

Uploaded: Jul 28, 2011
What do you do when you want to dispose of a medication—especially prescription, especially those that are known for effective treatment when used properly, and subject to abuse and addiction? Flush it down the toilet? Throw it in the trash? Take it back to the prescribing pharmacy? How about the Palo Alto HazMat recycling program on Embarcadero Way? Something else?

I recall several years ago when my son had his wisdom teeth removed, and he was given a prescription from the dentist for Vicodin to relieve the pain. It is an opiate, and is highly addictive. Many people who have no history of substance abuse have gotten "hooked" on it, and some have to receive treatment at a rehab center or a similar program in order to get past their addiction. There are other similar substances—another is Oxycotin--which can be great when used correctly, but can lead to abuse.

In my son's case, he said he did not want/need the Vicodin for his pain, so I tried to take it back to the pharmacy where we had picked it up. The pharmacy told me they don't typically take prescriptions back once they are dispensed, but for some reason they took this one back.

At the time, I had no idea that prescription drugs can be recycled here in Palo Alto at the center off Embarcadero Road where people take such things as fluorescent light bulbs used hazardous chemicals. In fact, I did not know until this past Tuesday, when I was participating at the July Parks and Recreation Commission monthly meeting. A member of the Public Works department mentioned it as we were discussing how the Household Waste and proposed new recycling center could be configured in the future. Did you know this little factoid?

I don't think anybody has any idea how much unwanted and unneeded medications are disposed of improperly, but my hunch is that it is a lot! This strikes me as an issue that is a good candidate for State Senator Joe Simitian's "There Ought to Be a Law" program. To whit:

Would it be easier, safer and a more actively used "recycling program" if the CVS, Walgreen, Safeway Pharmacy, and locally operated drug stores had a program to take such medications back, so that they are disposed of safely? How many pills would not get flushed down people's toilets, which creates a hazard and a treatment challenge for our water supply? How many containers of half used Vicodin bottles that have been sitting on the cabinet shelf for months or years could turned in instead of being a temptation for someone? How many lives could be affected in a positive way with an easy way to safely remove these medications from medicine cabinets?

It's great that the City has a facility that accepts such medications. But I suspect that few people in town are aware of it. (now the YOU are, please use it!) More to the point, wouldn't is be easier and more effective for people to be able to take the pills back to the place they got them for safe recycling?

Comments

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Jul 28, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Paul,

Good post. However, what does "safe recycling" mean?

Where are these complex organic chemicals disposed of, once they are turned backed to the pharmacy, or to the toxic "recycling" facility on Embarcadero? Are they thermally destroyed (e.g. plasma arc), or are they simply buried in toxic sites next to poor people?

I think you are are not looking over the horizon, and you may be guilty of "out of sight, out of mind" syndrome. I, personally, think that Palo Alto residents should take care of their own wastes, of all types.


Posted by RS, a resident of ,
on Jul 28, 2011 at 6:59 pm

PAMF will take them at their pharmacy. There is a drop box in the waiting area


Posted by Someone In The Know, a resident of ,
on Jul 28, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Craig:
There is no such thing as "recycling" prescription drugs - they are disposed of.

If you Google "prescription drug disposal," you will find:
FDA recommendations:
Web Link
Most drugs you can/should throw in the trash (after taking a few precautions). Most drugs you should NOT flush down the toilet (which used to be the standard advice given out.)

DEA National Take-Back Initiative:
Web Link
Next one occurs on Oct 29.

In CA, Joe Simitian already had a law passed (SB 966) to address this issue - it has a final implementation date of Jan 1, 2013
Web Link

Finally, the CA Board of Pharmacy has recs for disposal:
Web Link

It's not an easy issue - pharmacists are already under the gun in terms of their required productivity (ask your pharmacist) - the last thing most of them want is to have to deal with "returned pills."


Posted by ABC, a resident of ,
on Jul 29, 2011 at 10:48 am

I had to pick up a prescription, very expensive, I think my copay was like $400. After a few pills, my body's production of urine almost stopped. So I stopped the medication on my doctors' orders and was switched to something else. G We don't know for sure if it was the medication, but my doctor won't let me take it anymore.

Now what? Pharmaceutical companies mark these products up plenty, and they know some percentage of people have problems. Why shouldn't I and my insurance company be entitled to a refund? More to the point, if consumers were guaranteed a refund for unused medications (within, say, a month of expiration), you can guarantee unused meds would all go back to the pharmacy and two really good things would happen: 1) the pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies would get far faster and better feedback about which medications people stop because of side effects, and 2) it would instantly end the practice of people flushing medications into the water system. Oh, and patients wouldn't get soaked for medications they can't use.

And, the marketplace would actually make things work better because companies would have more of an incentive to figure out how to personalize medications so they work for everyone (right now, they make plenty of money on the majority and the rest can be considered collateral damage -- even if they didn't make money on the ones who find out they can't tolerate the medications, and they do because no one can return them for their money back).


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Jul 29, 2011 at 1:57 pm

I guess I did not communicate very well.

I want to know where the returned, recycled, disposed-of drugs end up. Also, what happens to the drugs that are cycled through the human body, and go to the sewer system (through urine and feces...and end up attached to the sewage solids)?

If the drugs end up in land fills, that only delays their final leach into the larger environment. Yes, soil bacterial will degrade the load, somewhat, but not totally. Plasma arc, on the other hand, will completely destroy the molecules, and they won't end up in a toxic land fill or incinerator, next to poor people.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of ,
on Aug 3, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

ABC, would you take a second hand drug?


Posted by joey, a resident of ,
on Jan 12, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Now what? Pharmaceutical companies mark these products up plenty, and they know some percentage of people have problems. Why shouldn't I and my insurance company be entitled to a refund? More to the point, if consumers were guaranteed a refund for unused medications (within, say, a month of expiration), you can guarantee unused meds would all go back to the pharmacy and two really good things would happen: 1) the pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies would get far faster and better feedback about which medications people stop because of side effects, and 2) it would instantly end the practice of people flushing medications into the water system. Oh, and patients wouldn't get soaked for medications they can't use.


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