Due to its complexity, there is often confusion around the “who, what, where and why” of pharmaceutical drug disposal. In this interview, Kathryn Evans—national director at Stericycle—answers some frequently asked questions about the topic.
Pharmaceutical waste disposal runs the gamut from throwing away nonhazardous medications like lidocaine to disposing of acutely dangerous ones like warfarin. Depending on the type of waste, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) can all have applicable regulations
. Keeping track of the various requirements and what drugs they pertain to can be a significant undertaking.
In addition, smaller organizations, including physician practices, long-term care organizations and post-acute facilities, may not have standardized disposal procedures because they don’t have the resources to develop and sustain a formalized pharmaceutical waste disposal program.
There are several risks to be aware of. Without a strong pharmaceutical waste disposal program, an organization opens itself up to regulatory penalties, which can not only cause financial strain but also negatively affect the organization’s overall reputation. This in turn can impact patient and staff retention and loyalty.
There are also environmental concerns to bear in mind. When pharmaceutical waste is not appropriately addressed, it can leach into the environment, polluting groundwater and freshwater resources.
First, you should walk through your facility to determine what types of drug waste
your organization generates. Watch for P-listed waste, which not only requires proper disposal of unused medications but also the packages the medications come in.
After you construct a comprehensive list, create a plan that demonstrates how you will dispose of drug waste and maintain compliance with various regulations. One of the first things regulatory bodies look for when assessing an organization’s program is whether they have a solid plan.
Next, you should quantify the different types of waste you generate and figure out the right number of disposal containers. Also, think about where you should put the containers so they are accessible by staff and not to the public. In most facilities, this will be in a medication room and/or a nurses’ station.
Once equipment is in place, be certain to fully educate staff on proper waste disposal methods and locations. This may involve online tools, posters located near waste receptacles and tips during staff meetings. It can be especially beneficial to provide real-world examples so staff can better visualize the problems and solutions.
To start, keep manifest records up to date. Should your organization receive a visit from the EPA, auditors will review your manifests, and so it’s essential that they are current and accurate. This is also helpful if an organization has a question about previous waste disposal efforts. Periodic audits are also valuable to gauge continued compliance.
With the most experience in the industry, Stericycle can help your organization with pharmaceutical waste disposal.