Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Drugs: Expired and Leftover - Unintended Consequences

What do we do with our unused or out-of-date, expired medicines? Or, more importantly, what should we do with these drugs?

Recently, one of the cable networks, CNN, aired the Associated Press report that most water supplies are contaminated with leftover prescription drugs, SO I am revisiting my post on the subject that I first wrote on August 16, 2007. This topic came to light, over the past few years, as I tried to find official ways to discard pharmaceuticals, of all sorts. These drugs are biohazards, but it took total water contamination to even bring this problem to light.

How many drugs will we be unintentionally taking, before this problem is resolved? How damaged will our children be, before we act? How many people are dying, of unknown causes, that really are related to unintentional, yet dangerous drug interactions?

So, welcome to my world on surfing the trends of my American Life, circa August 16, 2007.

This has been a concern of mine for several years. In good conscience, a person can't throw leftover or out-of-date medicines in the trash or down the drain.

These medicines should be disposed of in a way that doesn't endanger us further by poisoning or changing our water supply.
I read a concise explanation of a related issue,
"Why do medicines expire after a certain period of time?"
For instance, antibiotics in the water system can affect the growth and development of a wide variety of living organisms, from bacteria to humans. Can you imagine what kinds of super bug is developing in antibiotic laced waters? How are hormones from birth control pills, prednisone, and other similar medicines altering the growth, development and reproduction of living organisms, including humans and the animals they depend on for food?

Some might say, "Well, there are probably very few pills actually getting into our waterways and other ecosystems. You are probably exaggerating the extent of the impact of these waste medicines." I don't know, maybe I am not reacting strongly enough to a catastrophe. I can always develop a simple hypothesis, and we can work our way through some mental practices to discover whether there may be legitimate concerns about our ecosystem.

Once discovered, we can proceed with specific research to find a more specific answer to the question, Is our ecosystem contaminated with leftover medicines at a level that may interfere with normal growth and development of living things within the ecosystem?

Let's do a simple little simulation with one type of medicine to find out.

Let's say that each year, a minimal number of people, 1 in every 10, do not take all the antibiotics prescribed to them and do not give them to another person. This small number of people, 10%, dispose of these antibiotics into the water system.

Then, let's say that a minimal number of pills, say 3(three) 500 mg tablets are put into the water system. What would be the scope of the problem in our various river systems?

How many pills would that be? How many milligrams of antibiotic would that be?

Let's say that we are talking about a very small river system, consisting of 20 small to medium sized towns.

Let's say that the small towns average 3,000 people and the medium sized towns average 15,000 people. We can't realistically count the rural folks who use the water systems, so we won't.

Let's say, that in a small river system, 40% of the towns(8) are medium sized and 60% of the towns(12) are small. That would give us a population estimate for the small river system of 156,000 people. If 10% of this population disposed of their antibiotics within the town's sewer systems, that would mean 15,600 people discarding their antibiotics in the sewer.

Using our 10% figure of those who put at least 1500mg(3 times 500mg) of antibiotics in our small river system, we could estimate that (15,600 times 1500) 23,400,000 mg (milligrams) of antibiotics would course through this small river system.

Let's put the milligrams of antibiotic into our American perspective of measurement. Per year, that is 46,800 antibiotic pills, of varying strength, flowing into only ONE small river system.

Amazing isn't it?

If you let these thought experiments progress, we would consider other types of medicines and drugs.
What about hormones?
What about antidepressants or allergy medicines?

Yes, I know that this is a pretty simplistic scenario with no idea about many pertinent variables, like where the antibiotics would enter the water system, how fast the water was moving, and how well antibiotics were filtered from a town's drinking water, BUT I believe that the idea that there are unintended consequences for "throwing away" medicine is evident from these simple extrapolations.
There are solutions, but only communities of like minded people can develop them.

Do we value the lives of our children? Can you answer yes to this important community question? Our children are the ones who will be more affected by the drug contamination in our water than will the adults. Their developing bodies are more reactive to environmental variables.

There are similar ecological disasters that we can look to for a warning. We all know about the direct link between factors like: poor air quality and poor feral animal control with increased rates of asthma.

All these ecological problems are an ongoing concern everywhere, but they are always more greatly magnified in places of greater population density.

There are some safe methods for disposing of medicines. Most of these methods basically involve treating medicine for what it is, a hazardous waste product.

Just some ideas to think about, and a call to action for those who can care about the living.

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