Medicines should not be discarded in the trash!
Medicines are chemical products, meant to protect us or heal certain conditions. Medicines become risk factors for both humans and the environment when, at the end of their “life” cycle, they are improperly managed.
When we say “life cycle” for medicines we refer to expired products, medicines left after the treatment was changed or when the patient is healed, damaged or withdrawn medicines (upon the request of the manufacturer), but still remain in patients’ possession. *
Usually, expired drugs from pharmacies and warehouses are eliminated through incineration, as per the legislation.
The challenge arises with medicines from households – whether we refer to expired medicines or medicines which are no longer used. They all end in the landfill for municipal waste. Meanwhile, weather conditions may destroy the packaging, and chemical substances from medicines are washed by rainwater, become leachate infiltration and infiltrate further in soil. If the landfill is not compliant with the latest environmental standards, is not provided with treatment station, or a geo-membrane, the leachate reaches the underwater.
Thus, there is the risk for the water to become contaminated with such substances and then consumed by people directly for wells and fountains, without going through a prior treatment process. Many cases of illnesses were reported.
Half of the landfills in Romania do not meet the minimum operating requirements set out by the environmental legislation of the EU, and are scheduled to be phased out. The danger of contaminating the underwater with toxic substances generated by waste consisting of unusable medicines is, thus, not only imminent, but also constant and real.
US has clear regulations for disposing medicines. Nevertheless, the American geologists examined 39 water streams of 30 states and found that 80% contained traces of substances used in medicines.
In France, pharmaceutical waste totals 70.000 tons per year. The French government has solved the issue of collecting expired medicines from the population, through pharmacies.
Germany, Italy, Portugal and Hungary introduced an obligation to turn over expired drugs with pharmacies or family physicians.
Romania also established the population’s obligation to turn over expired drugs to pharmacies, as per the Order of the MoH no. 119/2014, Art. 38 parag. C) Medicines past the expiration date coming from population shall be delivered to pharmacies or nearby pharmaceutical collection points, in order to be disposed of, through incineration.
However, the unusable medicines coming from population are not selectively collected as the collective mindset was not educated in this sense, and the competent authorities failed to efficiently communicate the decision of the Ministry of Health.
What may be done?
Make a habit from taking the expired medicines or the drugs you no longer use to the closest pharmacy – as you discard consumed batteries when entering supermarkets. Spread the information to all the persons you know that use medicines or undergo medical treatment. It is the only way to educate and reduce the risk of dangerous substances returning to us because we simply did not know to disposed them in a proper manner.