July 27, 2023

Why a Full-Service Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal Program is Essential

Medication plays a very important part in illness recovery and management of chronic conditions. A key component in safe medication use is the proper disposal of unneeded pharmaceuticals. It is beneficial for healthcare facilities to develop a comprehensive pharmaceutical waste disposal program to help ensure waste is managed correctly. This can be a complicated task, and that’s why partnering with a company such as Stericycle, which provides a full-service pharmaceutical waste disposal program, can help healthcare facilities with improved training, waste segregation, and compliance.

Pharmaceutical waste refers to any discarded drug, including dietary supplements, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, homeopathic drugs, compounded drugs, and investigational drugs. Drug disposal is a common responsibility in healthcare settings. A survey conducted by Stericycle gathered valuable insights from registered nurses (RNs), pharmacists, and decision-makers at the director level, emphasizing the importance of a full-service pharmaceutical waste disposal program for healthcare facilities. The survey shed light on the challenges faced, the frequency of service required, and the necessary training to achieve efficiency and compliance. Results state that 99.5% of participants disposed of pharmaceutical waste at least once a day, and 87% of nurses and pharmacists disposed of pharmaceutical waste four or more times per day.

Implementing a full-service pharmaceutical waste disposal program can prove invaluable in protecting the well-being of hospital staff and patients. In Stericycle's survey, 64% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their third-party pharmaceutical waste management service improves overall patient safety. Moreover, its timely and proper implementation brings forth benefits for healthcare facilities.

Recommendations for a Full-Service Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal Program Implementation

  1. Waste Characterization: 
    As an initial step, waste generators should conduct a waste determination to ensure the proper management of pharmaceutical waste. Characterization involves determining whether the pharmaceutical waste is hazardous or non-hazardous, as well as whether it is controlled or non-controlled.

    It may be necessary to evaluate additional criteria based on state regulations or facility policies. It is crucial to confirm with waste vendors and partners the types of materials they accept. There are four main categories of pharmaceutical waste to be aware of: non-RCRA waste, RCRA waste, chemotherapy waste and controlled substances waste. Stericycle can provide targeted information on pharmaceutical waste requirements based on the hospital’s specific formulary, and our formulary experts can assist in making waste determinations for pharmaceuticals by reviewing data associated with the drug's National Drug Code (NDC).

    Stericycle can assist both larger generators and smaller healthcare facilities in identifying and characterizing pharmaceutical waste. A reliable pharmaceutical waste management partner will have well-defined programs that help ensure the safe and secure handling of various drug wastes, including appropriate segregation  procedures, storage processes, and proper treatment of the waste prior to end disposal.

  2. Availability of Containers:
    Once the pharmaceutical waste is categorized, it should be disposed of in the appropriate containers. Hazardous waste pharmaceuticals are typically collected in black containers. Under many of Stericycle's programs, non-hazardous waste may be placed in blue or white containers.

    According to Stericycle's survey, 51.5% of respondents expressed a preference for more frequent container exchanges. A specialized third-party provider can assist in determining and implementing the ideal frequency, and they can also support higher frequencies if necessary. It is recommended to determine the appropriate number and type of pharmaceutical waste containers based on the unique needs of the facility.

    Increasing the frequency of container exchanges can support internal teams by improving consistency and facilitating compliance with waste segregation requirements, while also promoting waste diversion and employee safety. Healthcare workers need to focus on providing clinical care without having to worry about their pharmaceutical waste containers.

  3. Staff Training:
    Education and training are critical aspects of pharmaceutical waste management. Employees need to have comprehensive knowledge and stay updated on the types of pharmaceutical waste present in the facility and the appropriate disposal methods. According to the Stericycle survey, 78% of the open-ended responses specifically mentioned correct classification, segregation, and employee compliance as major challenges. Additionally, 95.5% of respondents expressed the need for training materials to understand how to effectively utilize pharmaceutical waste containers.

    It is crucial to understand the correct pharmaceutical waste container to use. One effective method to educate healthcare workers on proper waste segregation is educational materials and handouts. It is also important to maintain documentation of the dates and times of the training sessions.

A full-service pharmaceutical waste disposal program can help healthcare facilities achieve proper pharmaceutical waste management, compliance with regulations, and a safer environment for all.

As a partner, Stericycle helps our customers with pharmaceutical waste disposal by providing incineration treatment services. Stericycle follows applicable regulations in transporting and treating pharmaceutical waste. In 2022, Stericycle incinerated 38 million pounds of pharmaceutical waste before disposal, contributing to the prevention of active pharmaceutical ingredients from entering waterways.

Stericycle's pharmaceutical waste solutions are designed to help healthcare facilities efficiently manage pharmaceutical waste. For more information, download our Pharmaceutical Waste Whitepaper to learn more.

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