A new EPA rule on hazardous waste pharmaceuticals has healthcare executives rethinking their plan to dispose of drugs and hazardous waste.
Among other things, these new regulations in the final rule prohibit the disposal of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals down the drain and eliminates the dual regulation of RCRA hazardous waste pharmaceuticals that are also Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) controlled substances. The new rules also maintains the household hazardous waste exemption for pharmaceuticals collected during pharmaceutical take-back programs and events, while ensuring their proper disposal.
“Sewering or flushing unused, hazardous medications can be harmful to the environment,” says John Holaday, PhD, CEO at DisposeRx, Inc., an at-home medication disposal solution company located in Sanford, North Carolina.
“Healthcare facilities—hospitals, pharmacies, nursing and long-term care facilities—are greatly impacted by this ruling, and as a result, their executives now must change their strategic approach to disposal of drugs and hazardous waste,” Holaday says.
Healthcare executives should take this as an opportunity to educate stakeholders about the risks associated with the storage and disposal of unused medications—whether that is an individual patient who has a leftover prescription at home, or health systems dealing with large volumes of hazardous medications, according to Holaday.
“The common viewpoint for decades was that flushing and sewering were suitable ways to discard of hazardous medications, and now we know better and are aware of the profound environmental implications,” he says. “By immediately and appropriately discarding leftover medications—no matter the volume—we are protecting our waterways; and we are protecting our families from other potential tragedies, including accidental poisonings, diversion, addiction and even death.”
According to Holaday, there are three things healthcare executives should know about the new rule:
- The new federal regulations apply to all healthcare facilities. “However, healthcare executives should investigate their state laws and regulations on pharmaceutical hazardous waste disposal, as many states have adopted their own rules that are often more stringent than the new federal regulations,” he says.
- The new standards are not designed to be onerous. In fact, says Holaday, the standards “are meant to make it easier and safer for healthcare facilities to follow rather than previous hazardous waste generator regulations that were poorly defined and difficult to implement.”
- While the final rule specifically impacts healthcare facilities, the environmental impact of flushing drugs into sewer systems extends beyond hospitals, pharmacies, dental offices and nursing homes. “We also should be concerned about medications being flushed or sewered at home,” Holaday says.