Dr. Patrick Moore is the co-founder and former leader of Green Peace
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors must act with reason rather than fear and ignorance as it votes today on a costly and unnecessary drug take back program.
City leaders should not cower to threatening, unproven ideas pushed by environmental activists over legislation that would require drug manufacturers to pay for the collection and disposal of unused prescription drugs.
Proponents of the proposal state that unused or unwanted prescription drugs are being flushed down toilets and tossed into sinks, contaminating the water system. But in truth, these claims fail to support a need for a program that would provide no added benefit to human health or the environment while increasing medical costs.
Activists have exaggerated the presence of trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in the water supply even though the medicines are found at extremely low levels. Those trace amounts are at such low levels that they are measured in parts per trillion, roughly equivalent to one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Adding to the misinformation is the fact that only 10 percent of those small trace amounts come as a result of consumers flushing unused prescriptions down the toilet, while the rest are passed through the body as human waste after the medication’s use.
In the end, it’s a simple over exaggeration.
As a life-long environmentalist with nearly four decades of activism under my belt since I helped found Greenpeace in 1971, I’ve thought a great deal about environmental health and human safety.
We must weigh significant environmental threats against advantages of a healthy society that benefits from the prescribed use of pharmaceuticals with longer, healthier and more productive lives.
Nothing in the scientific literature suggests such low levels are in the least bit harmful to human health or the environment. Elaborate and expensive drug take back programs are unnecessary and act as an overreaction to bended scare tactics.
There’s an easier method to properly dispose of medications and protect the environment without resorting to expensive take back programs.
It’s simple: Toss the drugs in the trash.
Studies done beginning more than a decade ago by the pharmaceuticals industry examined all the ways that medication might enter into the environment through surface waters.
Research found that medication in surface waters were found only at trace levels and posed no risk to human health. Furthermore, regular household trash can be held securely in landfills and virtually none of the medicine ends up in surface water.
If all unused medicines were disposed of in household trash – instead of being flushed down the toilet – the trace amounts of medicine found in the environment would decline even further.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) already have a formal agreement, SMARxT DISPOSAL, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) to inform people how to safely dispose of medicines in the trash, and to highlight the environmental threat posed from flushing medicines down the toilet.
If leadership does decide to take action, public health would be better served simply by further educating people on disposing medication through the municipal waste collection system, where it will be processed safely, and not by disposing medication into toilets or sinks.
In these difficult economic times, the last thing America needs is complicated and expensive drug take back programs that are likely to contribute to rising healthcare costs.
That’s especially true when there is a simple answer.
An advisor to government and industry, Dr. Patrick Moore is a co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace, and chair and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. In Vancouver, Canada. www.greenspiritstrategies.com