The ‘Witches Brew’ Of Drugs In The Water Supply

The ‘Witches Brew’ Of Drugs In The Water Supply

September 26th, 2011 // 12:06 pm @

As a steady stream of studies and investigations reveal the extent to which pharmaceuticals are found in the US water supply, a new bill has been introduced in Congress that would create a non-profit organization to develop a nationwide program for disposing of medicines. And the non-profit would be financed by the pharmaceutical industry.

“The need for a safe drug disposal program has never been greater. In a 2008 investigation, pharmaceutical contamination was found in 24 out of 28 metropolitan areas drinking water,” says Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat who introduced the bill, in a statement. “Aquatic wildlife, whole ecosystems, and our communities own drinking water can never escape this witch’s brew of pharmaceuticals.”

Known as the Pharmaceutical Stewardship Act, the non-profit would also establish a commission to develop a strategy for preventing pharmaceutical contaminants from polluting waterways during the production process. For instance, a newly released study indicates that active pharmaceutical ingredients were linked to changes in sexual characteristics of a type of fish in a river in France where a Sanofi plant is located..

As part of its proposed mission, the non-profit would assess hazards and strategies for reducing the risks associated with the misuse of prescription meds, including diversion, overdose, and accidental poisoning; address sources of contamination, including development, manufacturing, disposal, and metabolic processing; and make recommendations on minimum environmental standards for disposing of drugs by incineration or other means.

The non-profit, which would be called the National Pharmaceutical Stewardship Organization, would be overseen by a commission consisting of the heads of different federal agencies, including the FDA, the Centers for Diease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency would act as administrator.

As for drugmakers, they would be required to participate and fund the effort, and the non-profit administrator would select which drugmakers would have representation on the non-profit board. This structure would allow the industry to have a permanent voice in determining how the disposal program would be structured and how their funds would be used to carry out the mandate.

Drugmakers can choose not to participate, but the bill then requires participation in another certified stewardship program. Those drugmakers that do not cooperate and refuse to join any program may face a penalty of up to $50,000 for each day the company does not participate in another such program, according to the proposed legislation (you can read the legislation here).

A spokeswoman for Slaughter stresses that this would not be a government-run program, because the goal is to give drugmakers enough flexibility to implement the agenda. “It establishes a non-profit corporation that will be managed and financed by drug producers, so that they can control their own funds and operate the program as efficiently as possible in the private section,” she writes us. The cost, she adds, would be determined based on the market share of drugs involved in the program.

“This is a good first step,” Mae Wu, an attorney in the environmentl and health program at the National Resources Defense Council, tells us. “We like the fact that it requires the drugmakers to put up money to address the problem.” The NRDC is one of a handful of organizations that has lined up to back the bill. The others include the Science and Management of Addictions, Product Stewardship Institute, Food and Water Watch and Environment America.

Certainly, pharmaceutical waste – in whatever form – is an issue that needs to be addressed. Whether this is a useful approach remains to be seen. Although $8 million would be appropriated each year to oversee the program, the effort may win backing on Capitol Hill since the bulk of the financing would come from industry. On the other hand, industry may argue this is another tax; their funds would not be treated as charitable donations. Then again, industry involvement can also be used to polish its tarnished image.

Source: Pharmalot

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