Hazardous Drugs in Retail Pharmacy: What You Need to Know

Once expired, contaminated, or damaged, by law, all hazardous drugs in a pharmacy must be properly disposed of as hazardous waste. Types of hazardous drugs generated by a retail pharmacy can vary, but, in general, they contain active ingredients derived from plants, animals, or synthetic compounds manufactured through chemical synthesis or combined with other specific chemical ingredients. Proper disposal of these drugs is necessary, as the waste may pose a risk to human health or the environment due to their potentially hazardous properties.

What Is Hazardous in Retail Pharmacy?

As hazardous drug waste may contain toxic, flammable, reactive, corrosive, or infectious substances, retail pharmacies need to handle, store, and dispose of hazardous waste properly to minimize the potential risks associated with the drugs. Additionally, primary considerations for retail, pharmaceutical waste include determining which drugs must be managed and disposed of as hazardous waste, as a controlled substance, or require other special waste management considerations. 

Multiple agencies, including EPA, DOT, DEA, OSHA, State Environmental Protection Agencies, and State Pharmacy Boards, among other potential local boards or agencies, regulate retail pharmacies. Compliance with regulations is mandatory for retail pharmacies and vital to avoid penalties and fines and damage to their reputation.

Not all potentially hazardous drugs are subject to regulation as waste require a prescription, either. Over-the-counter and prescription drugs can be purchased at numerous retail stores and shops other than a local pharmacy or a national chain like CVS or Walgreens. These days, retail pharmacies are located in grocery stores and department stores like Shaw’s, Hannaford’s, Target or Walmart. Nearly all retail establishments, from gas stations, corner convenience stores, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar to Home Depot and OfficeMax sell over-the-counter cold and flu medicines, pain relievers, heartburn medications, digestive aids and laxatives, allergy relief tablets, dietary supplements, and specialty medicines and vitamins that may be subject to regulation.

What You Need to Know

If you are operating a retail pharmacy or store that sells medicines and medications you need to know that there may be certain types of drugs, under certain conditions, that will need to be disposed of as a hazardous waste. In particular:

Expired medications and vaccines: Once prescription drugs or vaccines, or over-the-counter medications have passed their expiration dates they are considered hazardous waste. They may lose their effectiveness or become chemically unstable, posing risks if consumed or improperly disposed of.

Contaminated or damaged medications and vaccines: Medications and vaccines that have been contaminated or damaged through spills, leaks, or exposure to moisture, or mold or mildew, may become hazardous waste. This includes drugs in broken or leaking containers or those that have been tampered with.

Chemotherapy drugs: Retail pharmacies that handle and dispense chemotherapy drugs generate hazardous waste. These drugs are highly toxic and require specialized handling and disposal methods to protect both staff and the environment.

Hazardous chemicals: Retail pharmacies routinely use chemicals for compounding medications or for cleaning purposes. Many solvents, disinfectants, and cleaning agents can be highly flammable, hazardous and need to be properly managed and disposed to prevent harm to people and the environment.

Sharps waste: The proper disposal of sharp objects used for medical applications in pharmacies, such as needles, syringes, and lancets, are considered a hazardous waste. Sharps need to be properly handled and disposed of to prevent injuries and the spread of infections.

Management and Disposal

Proper management and disposal of hazardous wastes in retail pharmacies and stores involve several key steps beginning with separation of hazardous drug waste from other types of waste. Segregating the wastes prevents contamination and minimizes risks to people. Stores and pharmacies should have specially labeled containers or storage areas specifically designated for hazardous waste.

Proper Labeling: Clearly labeling containers with appropriate hazardous waste labels ensures that the people tasked with handling the waste are aware of the contents and potential hazards. Labels should include information such as the type of waste, associated risks, and proper handling instructions.

Storage: Hazardous waste should be stored in a secure, well-ventilated area that is inaccessible to unauthorized individuals. It is crucial to follow any local, state, or federal regulations regarding the storage of hazardous waste.

Transportation and Disposal: All waste designated as hazardous at retail pharmacies, shops, and stores needs to be safely transported off-site for treatment or disposal. Businesses should consider benefits from partnering with companies certified in hazardous waste management, transportation, and disposal. A licensed waste disposal company like MLi Environmental arranges pickup and transport of pharmaceutical drug waste to authorized hazardous waste disposal facilities. These facilities employ methods that minimize environmental impact and comply with relevant regulations.

Hazardous drug waste includes medications, vaccines, and other products that may be prescribed or purchased over-the-counter that are expired, damaged, or otherwise unusable by a retail pharmacy. All retail establishments must comply with and operate within the established regulatory framework, including proper handling, storage, transportation, and disposal of hazardous waste.

MLI Environmental offers comprehensive solutions for managing hazardous drug waste in retail environments. Our professional team packages, characterizes and transports nearly all types of hazardous waste for proper disposal to ensure your business remains compliant with local, state, and federal regulations. For more information, contact MLI Environmental today.