Recycling Expensive Medication: Why Not?

Jay M. Pomerantz, MD


Medscape General Medicine. 2004;6(2):4 

In This Article

Environmental Impact

Although a clean environment is widely championed, we hardly ever talk about pharmaceutical pollution. Recently, pharmaceuticals have been detected in surface water, ground water, and drinking water. Furthermore, resistant bacteria may be selected in the aeration tanks of sewage treatment plants by the antibiotic substances present.[40] Efforts to make sure terrorists do not contaminate our drinking water are in force, herbicide and pesticide levels are examined, but pharmaceuticals abound, and while they are likely safe for humans directly, this may not be so when they are unleashed to work indiscriminately and over time in our environment. One advantage of a pharmaceutical recycling program would be the safe disposal of whatever is unneeded or truly out of date. A 1996 report[41] of how expired medications are being disposed of found that 1.4% of respondents returned medications to a pharmacy, 54% disposed of medications in the garbage, 35.4% flushed medications down the toilet or sink, 7.2% did not dispose of medications, and 2% related they used all medications before expiration.

Another source of environmental pollution, pharmaceutical contamination by way of intact molecules (or active metabolites) passing through urine and feces, may actually be a larger problem, but it is one far removed from the issue of medication recycling.