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NBC: Protect Public Health & the Environment, Promote Take-Back for Unwanted Medications

This petition had 237 supporters

On August 3, NBC’s Today Show aired a segment with their regular medical contributor, Dr. Azar, who recommended that we dispose of unwanted medications, especially opioids, in the trash.  If widely followed, this bad advice will lead to an increase in illegal diversion (fueling the opioid epidemic), accidental poisonings, and environmental contamination. 

Despite numerous requests* to air a segment correcting this dangerous error, NBC seems unwilling to give it additional attention.  Please sign this petition to let NBC know that they have a responsibility to protect public health and the environment.  We want them to create and air a segment that promotes take-back programs for unwanted pharmaceuticals and acknowledges that flushing and trash disposal should be avoided. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, and the majority of state agencies nationwide deem take-back programs — safe drug collection kiosks, mail-back programs, and take-back events — as the most effective drug disposal method for unwanted household medications.  They typically consider trash disposal as a last-resort option.

Trash disposal is primarily promoted by PhRMA and other trade associations representing pharmaceutical manufacturers.  Contradicting the government's position, they claim that trash disposal is better than take-back.  Over the objections of PhRMA, many communities and two states have passed laws that require manufacturers to organize and pay for the proper disposal of their unwanted products.  It is commonly held that the only motivation PhRMA has to promote trash disposal and oppose legislation that requires manufactures to pay for take-back is to save their members money.  The cost of take-back is, roughly, only one cent for every ten dollars in sales!

Numerous studies have shown that trace amounts of pharmaceuticals negatively affect many aquatic creatures.  Drinking water supplies all across the country are contaminated with trace amounts of many different medications.  Flushing medications down a drain is obviously a very bad idea.  Trash disposal, using coffee grounds or kitty litter, does not prevent illegal diversion, accidental poisoning, or environmental contamination.  When put in the trash, medications (if they are not illegally diverted or accidentally ingested by a child or pet) generally end up in a landfill.  Rainwater percolating through landfills dissolves medications, and the resulting leachate is normally trucked to a wastewater plant for treatment.  I work at a wastewater plant and know that they are unable to economically remove most of these medications.  They pass through and are released into the aquatic ecosystem.

NBC needs to set the record straight about what we should do with unwanted household medications…use take-back programs, not the trash can!

Thanks for signing and sharing this petition with your network!

Ed Gottlieb
Chair, Coalition for Safe Medication Disposal
Board Member, New York Product Stewardship Council
Industrial Pretreatment Coordinator
Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Facility
Ithaca, New York

*On August 3rd, the National Stewardship Action Council and I separately emailed NBC requesting a correction (others may also have done so).  An August 3rd post to Dr. Azar's Facebook page was removed.  The next day, the Product Stewardship Institute sent a similar email request.  I emailed NBC again on the 7th and made follow-up phone calls on August 7th and 9th.  An NBC editor asked to connect with me on social media on August 9th.  He did not respond to my follow-up requests to discuss the issue.

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