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Thani JambulingamPavitra VelanThani Jambulingam, Ph.D., is a Pfizer Fellow, An Arrupe Research Fellow, and associate professor, Department of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Marketing, Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, Pa.
Pavitra Velan is an 11th grade student at the STEM Academy in Downingtown Pa. She is A Member of the National Honor Society and the President of the Health Occupations of Students of America (HOSA) School Chapter.

Do you know how to dispose of your unused prescription medicines properly? This research question pertains to the increasing production and consumption of medicines and the impact of disposed medicines on the environment. The discovery of seventeen different medicines in Philadelphia drinking water, based on a newspaper article, created curiosity that stimulated this research. To investigate how consumers dispose of medicines, a model of how medicines enter the water system was first developed using interviews of expert pharmacists and by visiting a water treatment plant and landfill facility.

After understanding the model, the following research questions were developed. Do people know how to dispose of medicines properly? Where do consumers get the information? What are the reasons for the leftover medicines? What happens to the leftover medicines? Who should be responsible for educating the public?

A pretested, online survey was administered to a random sample of 120 adult consumers. The response rate was 85%. The data was analyzed using Statistical Product and Service Solutions. The results indicate that 75% of the consumers did not know how to dispose of medicines properly. About 25% of the consumers who knew how to dispose of the drugs received the information primarily from the county waste management department (40%) followed by pharmacists (38%). Only 6% got the information from physicians. Across several classes of drugs, about 40% of the consumers saved the drugs for later use, 20% disposed of them in the trash, 4% flushed them down the toilet, and 3% returned them to the pharmacy. Ninety eight percent were unaware of the national prescription drug take-back program organized by the Drug Enforcement Administration twice a year. On average, about 50% of the respondents did not finish all the antibiotics. The reason for the leftover medicines could be noncompliance, switched therapy, or health improvement. Consumers are more prone to throw the medicines in trash compared to flushing down the toilet or sink. When asked who should provide information on medicine disposal, the majority of respondents ranked physicians as the most important followed by pharmacists, pharmaceutical companies, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Further research is needed to explore the role of pharmaceutical industry: How can the pharmaceutical industry participate in the appropriate disposal of medicines, especially medicines that have high potential for abuse or environmental impact? Should pharmaceutical companies explicitly provide instructions on how to dispose of medicines in their product inserts? Should pharmaceutical companies educate consumers on how to dispose of their medicines? Future research will address these issues.

Appropriately educating consumers is important to solve the medicine disposal problem. The study has significant implications to consumer health, environmental sustainability, and public policy.

Read more about this research in abstract, no. T3380, through the 2013 AAPS Annual Meeting and Exposition MyAgenda Planner.