Healthcare is the source of eight percent of the nation’s carbon footprint, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Quality care does not have to come at the expense of Mother Earth – instead, many healthcare organizations can pursue sustainability without compromising quality care. Environmentally-conscious organizations can rely on the pharmacists and related professionals trained under a University of the Sciences and Practice Greenhealth (PGH) partnership to put sustainability in focus in the pharmacy or pharmacy department.
Since 2011, the partnership between USciences – specifically, the university’s Mayes College of Healthcare Business and Policy and Philadelphia College of Pharmacy – and the nonprofit Practice Greenhealth has yielded three sustainability training modules for pharmacists, with three modules for community pharmacists in development. USciences has also incorporated components of the modules into its Public Health and Pharmacy course, while faculty and staff have presented the modules and related coursework at state-wide pharmacy associations. The program underscores the notion that pharmacists are in a prime position to contribute to environmental sustainability – especially on issues such as the contamination of the nation’s rivers, streams, and lakes with pharmaceuticals.
Medication dispensed by a pharmacist and consumed by a patient quickly enters the water supply – often contained in human waste, or more directly, in the form of medicine flushed down a toilet. Repeated millions of times, the end result is widespread contamination – with dramatic consequences. Lake Mead, a 250-square-mile body of water on the Arizona-Nevada border, is a great example. High levels of contamination there are cited as a potential cause of reproductive problems in the local fish population, such as males with low sperm counts or females that develop abnormal sexual organs.
Like Lake Mead, the nation’s drinking water contains pharmaceuticals. Recently, the Associated Press concluded that 41 million Americans rely on drinking water that is contaminated with pharmaceuticals. Even without definitive links between contamination and human health problems, many experts agree pharmaceutical contamination must be addressed and pharmacists should be involved.
The USciences and Practice Greenhealth program underscores the notion that pharmacists are key players in sustainability due to a role that has them interfacing with the public. From this position, pharmacists can advise the public to follow proper disposal guidelines issued with each prescription…and consume the entire prescription. If a prescription cannot be finished, pharmacists are in a position to refer patients to FDA disposal guidelines, or advise them of a pharmacy take-back event or municipal hazardous waste day. Ending the flushing of excess medication down the toilet – a major cause of contamination – becomes a reality with sustainability training for pharmacists. Together, these actions are strong initial steps in the push to halt further pharmaceutical contamination of the nation’s water supplies.