Recycling Unused Medicine

Across the country, nursing homes destroy thousands of dollars in medicine at each facility every day. The medicine is still good. But destroying the drugs has been the traditional way to keep prescription medication out of the wrong hands. A new federal directive might encourage more nursing homes to recycle unused medicines for the use of the poor. The GLRC’s Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports:

Transcript

Across the country, nursing homes destroy thousands of dollars in
medicine at each facility every day. The medicine is still good. But
destroying the drugs has been the traditional way to keep prescription
medication out of the wrong hands. A new federal directive might
encourage more nursing homes to recycle unused medicines for the use
of the poor. The GLRC’s Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports:


In her nursing home room, Genevieve Barns gazes out the window. A
black rosary is draped over her lap. She’s 94 and an oxygen
concentrator, bubbles behind her to help her breathe. She says even this
late in life she’s still abiding by her mother’s lessons.


“It’s a matter of how we were raised, you never wasted anything.”


Barns was on a common medication called Mucinex, to keep her
throat clear, but her doctor took her off of it. Normally, her unused
Mucinex would be sent back to the pharmacy for destruction, but Barns’
nursing home contributes it to a so-called ‘drug repository.’ Barns says it
was a simple choice to give medicine she can’t use to needy seniors.


“Well, everything is so expensive, and when you waste… you’re just
squandering things that should be used by someone.”


Four years ago, Ohio became the first state to recycle sealed, unused
medicine to seniors in need. Ever since, its two drug repositories have
struggled to get more participation. The drugs can’t be redistributed until
there’s enough of any one drug to make a 30 day supply. Then it’s made
available to seniors who otherwise couldn’t afford it.


At Genevieve Barns’ nursing home, the administrator, Denise Day,
collects the drugs in a blue plastic tote…


“We don’t have a huge cliental in this building at this time, but the
amount of medications that get sent back is still quite incredible.”


The bin in Day’s office is filled with pills and bottles sealed in their
packaging. She says what’s here comes from patients covered by
Medicaid; unused medicines covered by Medicare or private insurance
must to go back to the pharmacy for incineration before patients can get
their refund. Day says still, about 2-thousand dollars worth a month,
from just 34 patients, are recycled by the group called Serving Our
Seniors.


Its director, Susan Daugherty, says if every nursing home in her county
donated from just half their patients, the results would be astounding.


“Honestly we could meet and probably exceed the need of older adults
who’ve needed access to drugs that are common to the aging
populations. It could do a whole lot of good with a whole lot of waste.”


The drugs in this region are taken to Buderer Pharmacy. It’s become the
local drug repository. In the backroom shelves of medication go all the
way to the ceiling.


Matt Buderer is the pharmacist. He says the drugs are checked for their
expiration dates and whether they’re eligible for donation.


“And then what we want to do is take these drugs and poke them out of
this thing into a bottle. Making sure that what goes on the bottle is the
lot and expiration date.”


Seniors who’ve signed a waiver and received a card from Serving Our
Seniors can then buy any medication for a flat fee of 7 dollars and 40
cents.


“You can dispense one tablet. You can dispense 15. You can dispense a
billion for $7.40.”


Ohio’s not the only state with a drug repository program. At least
nineteen other states have mimicked the idea. Some states have had
more success than others.


In North Carolina the Board of Pharmacy says it recycles 5 to 6 million
dollars of drugs paid by tax payers every year. That’s a lot more than
Ohio’s program.


Buderer says his state could be matching those numbers, if only there
were more participation.


“There’s good public knowledge out there that large quantities are picked
up daily and incinerated that could be used. So I’m sure that a large
institutional pharmacy knowing that… certainly isn’t saying ‘well, we
don’t care.'”


Buderer says liability is often the reason given for not participating in
the drug repositories. The state’s largest nursing home corporation and
wholesale pharmacy. Both declined to comment for this story.


But now, there might be a bigger incentive. In April, the federal government
announced it will hold nursing home facilities financially accountable for
medicines going unused by patients. The states can still redistribute medicines,
as long as documents show the federal government isn’t paying for the same item
twice, and this acknowledgement of waste with in the system, might just be the
national push drug repositories need to move into the mainstream.


For the GLRC, I’m Lisa Ann Pinkerton.

Related Links

Region Deals With Deadly Nerve Agent

The Army wants to get rid of its stockpiles of chemical weapons because they fear terrorists might get to them. There are eight Army sites across the U.S. that store those kinds of chemicals. At one site in the Midwest, the military is planning to dispose of Nerve Agent VX. To destroy the stockpiles, the Army must first “water-down” the nerve agent. Then it has to be shipped to a company that disposes of industrial wastes. But while the Army says it’s making neighborhoods safer near where the chemical weapons are stored … some people fear having the watered-down nerve agent trucked into their neighborhoods. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports:

Transcript

The Army wants to get rid of its stockpiles of chemical weapons because they fear terrorists might get to them. There are eight Army sites across the U.S. that store those kinds of chemicals. At one site in the Midwest, the military is planning to dispose of Nerve Agent VX. To destroy the stockpiles, the Army must first “water-down” the nerve agent. Then it has to be shipped to a company that disposes of industrial wastes. But while the Army says it’s making neighborhoods safer near where the chemical weapons are stored, some people fear having the watered-down nerve agent trucked into their neighborhoods. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports:


Nerve Agent VX is a clear, odorless liquid with the consistency of motor oil. It was
accidentally created during the Korean War, when British chemists were experimenting
with various concoctions meant to kill lice on North Korean POW’s and refugees. Nerve
Agent VX kills within minutes after contact with the skin. It has never been used in
combat by the United States. Instead, most of the country’s supply sits in a highly-
guarded tank at the Newport Chemical Depot in west-central Indiana. In 1985, Congress
ordered the chemical weapons destroyed because many seemed obsolete. In 1997, the
United States joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits countries from
developing, producing, stockpiling or using chemical weapons.


Then, as U.S. Army spokesperson Terry Arthur explains, terrorists slammed planes into
the World Trade Center towers:


“After September 11th, 2001, because the public suddenly became aware of the possibility
for terrorism here in the United States, folks living near the stockpiles became acutely
aware of that. And the army began to look at ways to accelerate destruction of the
stockpiles.”


The Army is planning to burn some of its chemical weapons in incinerators. The Nerve
Agent VX that’s stored in Newport, Indiana will be destroyed through a neutralization
process. That’s a process that makes the nerve agent no more harmful than a household
drain cleaner.


(Ambient sound fade up)


The watered-down version of the nerve agent is called hydrolysate. It will be shipped by
tanker truck to Perma-Fix Environmental Services, a company in Dayton, Ohio. It’s a
company that usually handles industrial wastes and used oils.


“If you get your oil changed anywhere at a service station near the Dayton, Ohio area,
chances are, the used oil from your vehicle ends up here.”


That’s company Vice President Tom Trebonik. He says the hydrolysate will, simply put,
be broken down by a natural process. It will be eaten by microscopic bugs. And then it
breaks down even more into a form that will be pumped into the sewer system.


But, once word of a “nerve agent” coming to town spread around the small, poor
neighborhood near the plant, environmentalists began working with residents to voice
opposition to its disposal. They tacked up signs in the local supermarket and carry-out
that read “Deadly VX Nerve Agent” is coming to the neighborhood.


(Nat sound)


Martha Chatterton is a young mother of one with another child on the way. She lives in a
small house in a decaying area. Her husband fixes cars in the garage out back. They’re
glued to the news on CNN about heightened terror alerts. They know terrorist attacks are
a possibility. But they don’t want a problem from Indiana shipped to their backyard.


Chatterton is worried about the health effects of living near a plant that deals with such
industrial wastes. She says some days the air is orange and smells of a chemical stew.


“Well, last year we did the whole yard with roses and different flowers, and about a week
after we planted them, all of them died. So there’s got… there’s something wrong with
the ground here, because when I dug the hole for the rose tree, it smelled like gas fumes.”


Chatterton fears Perma-Fix won’t be able to properly handle the hydrolysate. The
company was cited in 2001 for odor violation but has since installed equipment to solve
the problem. Beyond that, the U.S. EPA and the Army see no reason why the treated
nerve agent can’t be trucked into town. Again, Army spokesperson Terry Arthur:


“We understand the concern of the public because it’s derived from a chemical agent.
What we want them to understand is that we have truckers who will be dedicated and
trained specifically for hauling this product and getting it across the state line to the Ohio
facility, where experts have been working with this kind of material for years.”


With the threat of terrorism, there’s little that’s likely to slow the pace of the destruction
of the nerve agent. The risks of leaving it intact seem greater than the risks associated
with destroying it.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Natalie Walston.

Aftermath of Chronic Wasting Disease

Wildlife managers in Wisconsin are facing a daunting task… how to dispose of thousands of potentially infectious deer carcasses. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gil Halsted reports:

Transcript

Wildlife managers in Wisconsin are facing a daunting task… how to dispose of thousands of potentially infectious deer carcasses. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gil Halsted reports:


Eighteen deer have tested positive for chronic wasting disease in an area of southwestern Wisconsin. To keep the disease from spreading, the state plans to kill 30-thousand deer in the area. But because the disease is related to mad cow disease, county landfills are refusing to bury the deer carcasses. The fear is that the mutant protein known as a prion that causes the disease could seep out of the landfill and pose a threat to human health.


Topf Wells is a spokesperson for Dane County, one of several counties that have refused to accept carcasses.


“The problem that many people are concerned about is that these prions are probably not destroyed by the forces in a landfill that lead to the decomposition of a lot of material.”


If counties don’t change their minds, the state may have to store thousands of deer carcasses in cold storage units during this fall’s hunt. Incinerating carcasses is another option. But at 75 dollars a deer it could prove too costly.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Gil Halsted.

STATE FINDS PCBs IN FARM SLUDGE

A chemical linked to cancer and other health problems has been discovered in sludge spread on farm fields. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shamane Mills has details:

Transcript

A chemical linked to cancer and other health problems has been discovered in sludge spread on farm fields. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shamane Mills reports:

The PCBs were found in recent testing by state officials; just over half the samples of recycled sludge from 50 sewage treatment plants had PCB levels as high as 920 parts per billion. Federal standards allow 50-thousand parts per billion. Wisconsin Natural Resources wastewater engineer Greg Kester says the low levels shouldn’t cause alarm.

“PCBs are ubiquitous in the environment in which we live now. If you look with sensitive enough analytical equipment you will find low levels in virtually anything.”

Nevertheless, Rebecca Katers of the Clean Water Action Council is concerned.

“The
risk assessment shows that these are not negligible numbers; even from very low levels PCBs are persistent and they accumulate up the food chain.”

Wisconsin has recycled sludge since 1973. Eighty percent goes on farmland; the rest is dumped in landfills or incinerated. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Shamane Mills.