Most people might not suspect that pills (or creams, patches, and inhalers) have a huge impact on the environment – but they do.
Climate change has noticeable effects on the environment as well as health consequences such as rising asthma rates and new patterns of infectious diseases. The main driver of climate change is greenhouse gas emissions. Our health system plays a major role and contributes almost 10% to our country’s greenhouse gases. The US is also responsible for more than 25% of total global health care emissions.
In our healthcare system, drugs and chemicals are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, pharmaceutical waste can lead to environmental and animal toxicity throughout the global supply chain and, in the case of antibiotic residues, to antibiotic resistance (also known as “superbugs”). In 2018, 5.8 billion prescriptions were prescribed in the United States. Meanwhile, consumers were spending $ 34 billion on over-the-counter drugs.
Many of these drugs are life saving and offer tremendous benefits and healthier lives when taken correctly. However, with some thought, there are a few things you can do to make your medicine cabinet more environmentally friendly while putting your health first.
Minimize waste when buying medicines
Less is more. Filling medication within 90 days can lower the total cost per pill, be more convenient, and require less packaging. However, in some situations it makes sense to request smaller quantities, e.g. For example, if you are trying a new medicine or buying over-the-counter medicines that you rarely take and that are unlikely to be ready before the expiration date.
Do the math. If your doctor recommends a dose change and the math works, the first thing to do is to halve or double your current pills. If this works, you can request a prescription for the new strength for your next refill.
Fill it up when you use it. Don’t take a prescription with you unless you’re going to use it, except for an emergency medicine that you should have on hand. If you have the option to take a medication if your symptoms get worse or do not get better, ask your doctor to send the prescription to the pharmacy and let the pharmacy know that you will let them know if you want it is filled.
Shrink your medicine cabinet
Review the benefits versus the harm. Bring all of your prescription and over-the-counter medications to your appointments and check them regularly with your GP. Make sure that your medication intake offers more benefit than harm to your situation. This is especially helpful when you see a lot of different doctors prescribing medication for you. Sometimes people stumble into a cascade of adding a drug to treat symptoms that are someone else’s side effects. However, be sure to discuss this with your doctor before making any changes. It can be harmful to stop some medications and others may need to be slowly reduced.
Include lifestyle medicine. Talk to your doctor about lifestyle medicine that focuses on healthy habits like regular exercise and healthy foods to help prevent disease and promote longevity. Often times, these lifestyle changes can help reduce or eliminate the need for medication.
Inhalers: Know Your Options
Explore 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 to see if an equivalent dry powder inhaler (DPI) option is available for you. However, not everyone can use DPIs that require patients to take quick, deep breaths to draw the drug into their lungs. (This is why rescue inhalers used during an asthma attack are usually MDIs.) Your choice of inhalers will also depend on the cost and coverage of your insurer. In the end, it is important to use the inhalation device that works best for you to help control your condition.
Proper disposal of medicines
Know when to flush. Don’t put medication in the toilet or sink (unless it’s on the FDA’s flush list) as it can contaminate lakes, rivers, agriculture, and drinking water. Read the packages for instructions on how to dispose of medicines. Many pharmacies or local public safety authorities, such as the police, will accept unused medicines and dispose of them safely. National Prescription Drug Return Day is April 24, 2021, so find safe collection points near you.
Some medicines can be disposed of in the trash. First remove the personal identification labels, then mix the medication in a container with coffee grounds, cat litter, or soil. (This is not recommended for controlled substances such as opioids and other addictive substances.) For more information on drug disposal, visit this FDA website.
Healthcare is a partnership, and with thought and care we can work together to have the best of both worlds – a healthier you and a healthier planet.