Liliya Martsynyuk, Grand Forks
Our great country has been a global leader in the production of pharmaceuticals for many decades now. This dynamic sector of the U.S. economy continues to boom thanks to the active research and development of new drugs that prevent and treat a multitude of ailments. As diseases become more treatable, more drugs are needed to supply those who are looking to improve the quality of their lives, especially the elderly. In North Dakota, the elderly population hit the 14.4 percent mark in 2011, which is higher than the national average.
Although Americans benefit incredibly from pharmaceuticals, there are growing concerns about the improper disposal of the pharmaceutical waste that is generated through unused, unneeded, or expired drugs. Both individuals and healthcare facilities contribute to this waste problem. According to the United States Geological Survey, both aquatic and human lives could be under threat due to the presence of hazardous chemicals in water. Some of the most hazardous chemicals found in pharmaceutical waste are steroids, antibiotics, and hormones.
While potentially harmful chemicals from farming and hydraulic fracturing in North Dakota are harder to control from the policy perspective, there is something much easier we can do in order to keep North Dakotan water cleaner remove all those harmful pharmaceutical substances from it. In 2010, President Obama signed the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act that removed the barrier of returning unneeded medications by individuals. States can now create and implement collection programs based on this Act. One of the most popular programs run nationwide is the National Take-Back Day a biannual program that provides free recycling opportunities for people who want to discard their unused prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, veterinary drugs, and nutritional supplements at no charge. During the first four events of this program, Drug Enforcement Administration removed over 1.5 million pound of medication.
Pharmaceutical waste is, unfortunately, a dual problem. Our country continues to see more and more of the drug abuse cases among young people due to poor recycling practices of prescription medications. According to the North Dakota Department of Human Services, "16 percent of North Dakota high school students have taken a prescription drug without a doctor's prescription." Health and Human Services projects that prescription drug spending by Americans will increase from $234.1 billion in 2008 to $457.8 billion in 2019. In addition to actively engaging in drug abuse awareness programs, we must start recycling pharmaceuticals more than just twice a year by creating our own state program, if we want to reduce the number of fatal deaths caused by overdose and misuse of medications.