A recent story published by ProPublica highlights how more states are planning to recycle wasted drugs in nursing homes. In April 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that as much as 740 tons of drugs are wasted by nursing homes every year. Healthcare waste could cost the United States as much as $765 billion. So, one must consider how significant wasted drugs are for the healthcare environment and what can be done to save money and put those drugs back in the hands of those who really need them.
The Problem of Wasted Drugs
There are many reasons why drugs may sit around in a nursing home environment and eventually be thrown out. The patient may no longer require the drug, the patient may pass away, or the patient may move and leave drugs behind. In most of these cases, the drugs are flushed or thrown away. Not only is this a waste of time, manpower, and money, but it is also potentially hazardous.
Over the past few years, more attention has been paid to the effect of flushing drugs on water supplies. Long Island’s aquifer, for example, has tested positive for low levels of pharmaceuticals in recent years. Flushing drugs can cause sewer waste to contaminate groundwater. Experts have been warning consumers for years that flushing is not the preferred method of disposing of drugs, but many consumers and nursing homes continue the practice.
As wastewater is treated and then repurposed for various uses, many areas of the country do not screen or treat for pharmaceutical contamination. So far, the effects of pharmaceuticals in water supplies have not been established for humans. Some studies do show that there are potentially negative effects on wildlife, such as frogs and fish.
The risk of contamination may seem even more pressing with recent reports that contaminated water in the Flint River may be linked to increased birth injuries and resulting long-term impacts. More research is certainly necessary in order to protect the millions of people who rely on treated water supplies. Anyone with questions about medications, birth injuries, or contaminated products can contact Brown & Brothers to learn more.
The Benefits of Recycling Wasted Drugs
In a time where our society is highly focused on sustainability and recycling, it comes as little surprise that some states are embracing the idea of recycling wasted drugs instead of throwing them away. Iowa was among the first states to create a program to recycle wasted drugs. Drugs that would normally have been thrown away are now recovered and distributed to low-income patients and those without access to medication coverage. The result of this effort has been significant.
SafeNetRx is the name of the program that has helped nearly 80,000 Iowa residents obtain medications that otherwise would have been thrown away. Funded by the state, in 2016 the program recycled and redistributed about $3.4 million worth of drugs. Not only does this reduce waste, but it could potentially save lives. By recycling the drugs, patients who otherwise may not be able to have access to drugs used to treat seizures and even cancer. Some of these drugs cost patients more than $100 per pill.
Since April, more states have begun exploring the idea of an organized drug recycling program. Florida, New Hampshire, and Vermont are three states pursuing options similar to Iowa. Florida lawmakers have already proposed a bill modeled after the Iowa program. Florida Representative Nicholas Duran is one of the primary supporters of the proposed law. After visiting a long-term care pharmacy, Duran took stock of just how many drugs were being wasted. At just one pharmacy location, about $400,000 worth of medications are returned each month for various reasons.
Under current law, the pharmacy cannot donate the drugs for redistribution. The result is around $2.5 million worth of sealed, sterile, and un-expired medication being incinerated. For the entire state of Florida, it is estimated that around $50 million worth of medication is destroyed every year because it cannot legally be donated or redistributed to those in need.
Many states have taken an aggressive approach to recycling and reducing the human and financial cost of waste. Implementing programs like SafeNetRx could be a viable option to do just that, and also to build strength in the community. Recycling wasted drugs and redistributing them to those in need can help communities, and the nation as a whole:
- Reduce the cost of manufacturing and re-manufacturing drugs.
- Reduce the costs associated with incineration, which costs thousands of dollars per month in some states.
- Promote a healthier community by providing drugs to patients in need.
- Reduce the amount of drugs being flushed and thus contaminating local water supplies.
- Improve monitoring and safety of drugs so they do not end up in the wrong hands.
Nursing Homes and Drug Issues
Beyond the concerns over wasted money and valuable resources, another concern related to wasted drugs and nursing homes is the fact that unclaimed medications could be a danger to residents. Medications that are unclaimed and not thrown away or recycled could be inadvertently (or intentionally) administered to a nursing home resident. These medications could also be tempting to staff members who know the value of the drugs, or who may be interested in taking the drugs themselves.
Implementing legally-backed programs for recovery and redistribution of unused or unclaimed drugs could help protect nursing home residents and ensure that drugs are handled safely and appropriately.
Managing medications in nursing home environments is of the utmost importance. When patients are given the wrong medication, the wrong dosage, or a medication they don’t need can result in serious injuries or illness. If you are concerned about how your loved one’s medications are managed, handled, or disposed of, contact Brown & Brothers to learn more about your loved one’s legal rights. Fill out our online form to speak with one of our attorneys.