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Advocate for Patients and the Environment, Too
Among the dozens of details that needed attention after my father died, was figuring out what to do with the virtual pharmacy we found in his apartment. Dad was a firm believer of better living through chemistry – and he had dozens of prescription bottles, supplements and vitamins, patches and more, in the bathroom, the kitchen and next to his desk. I think CVS could have stocked up from his stash. Among them were drugs he had taken that hadn’t worked – so the entire rest of the prescription just got put away. We also found dozens of herbal supplements he had tried over the years ranging from dandelion weed, to pomegranate capsules, from controlled substances like hydrocodone and oxycontin, to the leftovers of some heavy duty prostate cancer drugs. We had to dispose of them, of course. The social worker and nurse from hospice came by to log the amount of the remaining pain meds they had prescribed in his last few weeks – but they were not allowed (state law I think?) to take the leftovers with them. I asked how they suggested we dispose of them, and the nurse replied, “Just flush them.” I almost fell over. Flushing drugs is one of the most dangerous things we can do to our environment, in particular because it taints our drinking water. Studies have shown traces of human drugs in the water supply of every metro water supply in the US. Beyond that, fish have been found to be genetically altered by human drugs in rivers and streams. So, NO, I told the nurse. We won’t be flushing them. Instead, I called downstairs to the nursing staff affiliated with Dad’s residence, and asked the head of nursing what to do with the drugs. “Just flush them down the toilet,” she told me. Once again, I almost fell over. Just could not believe my ears. I asked her whether she understood why it was so dangerous to flush drugs. She admitted that yes, she knew the dangers and agreed with me. But as the head of nursing for a senior…