Too Many Drugs Are Flushed Down the Drain

An Associated Press investigation estimates that U.S. healthcare facilities regularly flush away at least 250 million pounds of unused drugs every year.

That is cause for concern because of health issues:

The massive amount of pharmaceuticals being flushed by the health services industry is aggravating an emerging problem documented by a series of AP investigative stories — the commonplace presence of minute concentrations of pharmaceuticals in the nation's drinking water supplies, affecting at least 46 million Americans.

Researchers are finding evidence that even extremely diluted concentrations of pharmaceutical residues harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species in the wild. Also, researchers report that human cells fail to grow normally in the laboratory when exposed to trace concentrations of certain drugs.

The AP story focuses on growing demand for healthcare facilities to find better, safer ways to dispose of the drugs. They should certainly do that.

But anyone who thinks in lean terms knows that another question needs to be asked: WHY are so many drugs being wasted?

The story, written by Jeff Donn, Martha Mendoza and Justin Pritchard, says the discarded medications “are expired, spoiled, over-prescribed or unneeded. Some are simply unused because patients refuse to take them, can't tolerate them or die with nearly full 90-day supplies of multiple prescriptions on their nightstands.”

The words “over-prescribed” and “unneeded” are the ones that catch my attention. That sure sounds like waste. And where there is waste, there are almost certainly opportunities to reduce it, if not eliminate it.

I don’t know how that can be achieved because I don’t know enough about the causes. Why are unneeded drugs on hand? Why do doctors over-prescribe? The answers to these questions need to be found so the waste can be cut back. That will do as much good as finding better methods of disposal.

1 comment:

Dean Bliss said...

You're absolutely right, Ralph - too many wasted drugs. The opportunities for 5S, visual controls, supply chain improvement, and other Lean techniques are nearly endless. Though there are medical reasons for some of the disposal, there is HUGE opportnity for improvement. We just need to do it.