Pills and the planet: Environmentally-friendly steps for your medicine cabinet

Most people can’t guess that pills (or creams, patches, and inhalers, for that matter) have a big impact on the environment – but they do.

Climate change is having significant effects on the environment, as well as consequences on our health, such as rising asthma rates and new infectious disease patterns. Greenhouse gas emissions are the main driver of climate change. Our healthcare system plays an important role, contributing nearly 10% of our country’s greenhouse gases. The United States is also responsible for over 25% of global healthcare emissions.

Within our health care system, pharmaceutical drugs and chemicals are the main contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, pharmaceutical waste throughout the global supply chain can lead to environmental and animal toxicities and, in the case of antibiotic residues, to antimicrobial resistance (also known as “superbugs”). In 2018, 5.8 billion prescriptions were filled in the United States. Meanwhile, consumers spent $ 34 billion on over-the-counter drugs.

Many of these drugs save lives, giving us huge benefits and a healthier life when taken correctly. But with a little thought, there might be a few things you can do to make your medicine cabinet more environmentally friendly, while keeping your health front and center.

Minimize waste when purchasing medicines

Less is more. Filling drug stocks for 90 days can lower the overall cost per pill, provide more convenience, and require less packaging. But in some situations, it makes sense to ask for smaller amounts, such as when trying a new drug or buying over-the-counter drugs that you rarely use and don’t plan to finish before the expiration date. .

Do the math. If your doctor recommends a dose change and the stone works, consider halving or doubling your current tablets first. If that works, then you can request a prescription for the new dosage for your next refill.

Fill it when you use it. Do not take a prescription unless you are using it, except for emergency medication that you should have on hand. If you are able to take medicine if your symptoms worsen or do not improve, ask your doctor to send the prescription to the pharmacy and tell the pharmacy that you will tell them if you want it to be. fulfilled.

Reduce the size of your medicine cabinet

Review the pros versus cons. Bring all of your prescription and over-the-counter medications to your appointments and review them periodically with your primary care physician. Make sure that your drug regimen offers more benefits than harms for your situation. This is especially useful if you see many doctors who prescribe medication for you. Sometimes people fall into a cascade where one drug is added to treat symptoms which are side effects of another. But be sure to discuss this with your doctor before making any changes; Stopping some medicines may be harmful, and others may need to be slowly reduced.

Incorporate lifestyle medicine. Talk to your doctor about lifestyle medicine, which emphasizes healthy habits like regular exercise and healthy foods to prevent disease and promote longevity. Often times, these lifestyle changes can help reduce or eliminate the need for medication.

Inhalers: know your options

Explore the options. If you have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), ask your doctor about your options for inhalers. Metered-dose inhalers (MDIs) use hydrofluoroalkane propellants, which are greenhouse gases, to deliver the drug. Check if there is an equivalent Dry Powder Inhaler (DPI) option for you. However, not everyone can use PGDs, which depend on patients to take quick, deep breaths to draw the drug into the lungs. (For this reason, rescue inhalers used during an asthma attack are usually MDIs.) Your choices of inhalers will also depend on the cost and coverage of your insurer. The bottom line is which inhaler is best for you to control your condition.

Appropriate disposal of drugs

Know when to rinse. Do not put drugs down the toilet or sink (unless they are on the FDA’s flush list), as this could contaminate lakes, rivers, agriculture, and water drinkable. Read the packaging for medication disposal instructions. Many pharmacies or local public safety agencies like the police will accept unused drugs and dispose of them safely. National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is April 24, 2021, so check out safe collection sites near you.

Some medicines can be thrown in the trash. Remove the personal identification tags first, then mix the medicine in a container with coffee grounds, kitty litter, or soil. (This is not recommended for controlled substances like opioids and other addictive drugs.) Visit this FDA webpage for more information on drug disposal.

Healthcare is a partnership, and through reflection and care, we can work together to have the best of both worlds – better health for you and a healthier planet.

The post Pills and the Planet: Environmentally Friendly Steps for Your Medicine Cabinet first appeared on the Harvard Health Blog.

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Jothi Venkat

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