Teleosis Program Lowers Pharmaceuticals in Water Supply

More than 900 pounds of unused and expired medicines were diverted from San Francisco waterways between June 1, 2007 and March 1, 2008 through the Green Pharmacy Program, which was initiated by the Teleosis Institute of Berkley, Calif., a non-profit educational organization devoted to reducing the environmental impact of health care.

Teleosis initiated the program in response to scientific studies published between 2002 and 2006 revealing that pharmaceuticals were being found in measurable quantities.  

The program establishes community-based take-back sites where consumers can return unused medications and sponsors events advocating environmentally safe disposal of unwanted medications. Currently 14 pilot take-back sites are operating in Bay Area pharmacies, doctor and dental offices, veterinarian hospitals, health-care facilities, and local recycling events.

Staff at take-back sites document all returned medicines and screen for controlled substances, which are turned away because of current Drug Enforcement Agency restrictions.  Medications are collected from take-back bins for incineration (the most environmentally safe disposal method) by Integrated Waste Control, Inc., a Hayward, Calif.-based waste hauler.

The program requires customers to document important information about their returned medications, including reason for return, place of purchase, and percentage of prescription unused. Data about the medications is sent to the Unused & Expired Medicine Registry, a program developed by the Community Medical Foundation for Patient Safety in Texas, which compiles national statistics on medicines returned and reasons for disposal.

According to Joel Kreisberg, executive director of Teleosis, the purpose of collecting data on unused medicine is to identify which pharmaceuticals are most often unused or over-prescribed and how sustainable medical practices can reduce healthcare's waste stream. Preliminary data for 2007 from Teleosis shows that 40 percent of prescription medications go unused, and the total wholesale value of returned medicines exceeded $112,000.

"By deepening our understanding of the quantities of medicines discarded, we can better comprehend the effectiveness of our current pharmacological approaches to illness, presenting a case for sustainable health care," Kreisberg said.

A study by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2002 found that more than 80 percent of waterways tested in the U.S. show traces of common medications such as acetaminophen, hormones, antidepressants, blood pressure medicine, codeine and antibiotics. Consumers often discard of unused and expired medicines in the sink or toilet, which can contaminate waterways and damage aquatic life.

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