EFPIA turns to social media for drug disposal campaign

Pharma trade group EFPIA has launched a Twitter campaign to encourage Europeans to dispose of their unused or expired medicines carefully and avoid harm to the environment.

The #medsdisposal campaign got underway yesterday with the backing of EFPIA and other groups representing the biopharma, over-the-counter medicines and pharmacy sectors in Europe.

“Human medicines contain active pharmaceutical ingredients [APIs] that may have unintended and unforeseen effects on the environment,” said EFPIA in a statement.

“While most European countries already have special medication disposal schemes in place, our hope is that the … campaign will raise awareness and collate information about the scheme in a single portal,” it added, referring to a new website set up to promote safe disposal.

Accompanying the website is a video that advises citizens on how to dispose of unused and out-of-date medicines responsibly, which can be accessed here.

“Every EU citizen has the power to limit undue and incorrect disposal of medicines: It is easier than you think,” according to EFPIA.

In the past, some drugmakers have mounted their own campaigns to raise awareness of the issue. For example, in 2012 Pfizer published an online guide highlighting disposal best practices, although this was aimed at healthcare professionals and clinics rather than the public.

There have been a number of regulatory initiatives too, particularly in the UIS where several states have tabled legislation that is trying to make pharmaceutical manufacturers directly responsible for collecting and disposing of unwanted medicines.

The district of Alameda in California has introduced ordnance – also mooted in San Francisco and other areas – that would require pharma companies to set up and fund take-back programmes for unused prescription medicines.

Alameda’s right to keep the law on its statute has been challenged by the pharma industry but was upheld by the US Supreme Court at the end of last month, raising the chances of similar legislation being passed elsewhere in the US and escalating costs for drugmakers.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and other plaintiffs in the suit issued a joint statement after the verdict saying the industry would ‘continue to actively work to educate consumers on the appropriate use of medicines’, including safeguarding at home and promoting safe disposal.

While safe disposal is an important consideration in terms of environmental safety, a potentially greater concern is the entry of APIs that have already passed through the bodies of patients entering the sewage system.

In 2013, three pharmaceutical compounds – the hormones 7 alpha-ethinylestradiol (EE2) and 17 beta-estradiol (E2) and anti-inflammatory diclofenac – were included in a European watch list of potential surface water pollutants for the first time, despite lobbying against their inclusion by the pharma industry.

Diclofenac is suspected of causing toxic effects to fish, while there are concerns that the two hormonal ingredients may disrupt the endocrine system in humans, engender antibiotic resistance and impact on fish reproduction by feminising male fish.

Since then, other pharma ingredients have also been put forward for inclusion on the watch list, including the macrolide antibiotic erythromycin.

The pharma industry contributed to the EU-funded KNAPPE project that tracked 178 pharmaceutical products in the water systems of 22 countries and concluded that ‘pharmaceutical products do not appear to be a problem in terms of their environmental impact’.

Last year, a global review of pharmaceuticals in the environment, commissioned by Germany’s environment ministry, found that out of 713 pharmaceuticals tested, 631 were found above their detection limits. While it did not conclusively identify any specific threats, the review called for cooperative action to minimise pharmaceuticals entering the environment.

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