(Yicai Global) Dec. 6 -- Expired and thrown-away drugs not only pollute the environment but also pose a threat to people's health in China where illegal recyclers have nurtured an underground black market worth tens of billions of yuan.
Around half of people in the country will destroy drugs found at home that have expired, while almost one-third will throw them away as normal when taking out garbage, according to an investigatory report on the industry from China Resources Pharmaceutical Group.
Expired Drugs As Dangerous Waste
Over three-quarters of Chinese households keep spare medicines, of which 30 percent to 40 percent have expired over three years, while 82.8 percent of households do not regularly check their medication or dispose of them in a proper manner, according to a whitepaper from Alibaba Health Information Technology. Statistics show that nearly one-third of adverse drug reactions in China are caused by expired drugs or improperly-stored pills.
Medication has a clear period of validity and those that have expired may deteriorate rapidly in effects, change in nature and even generate harmful substances after long-term storage. Such drugs, if taken, are unable to relieve or treat diseases and may cause harm to a patient's body, which could even result in poisoning and death.
Expired drugs are very likely to cause damage to the human body, and those randomly discarded may pollute the environment when buried together with domestic garbage and they may be recycled illegally and re-enter the market. Experts say that an expired pill's pollution is equivalent to that of three batteries and enough to contaminate a person's water consumption for five years.
"These illegally recycled drugs, whether expired or not, will re-enter the market," said one medical industry insider. "Tens of thousands of people in the Beijing-Tianjin region are engaged in illegal drug recycling, according to industry calculations, and Tianjin has become a distribution center for the trade which generates billions or tens of billions of yuan each year."
Urgent Need for National Policy Action
The expired drugs are harmful and there is a lack of regulations on recycling, the reports states. The current Pharmaceutical Administration Law regulates clearly on the production, sales and use of drugs while defining expired drugs as inferior and prohibiting their production and sales. The law, however, doesn't clarify disposal methods, nor the people responsible for the process. Household expired drugs have become a public safety threat and await the introduction of relevant national policies.
Expired drugs are categorized as hazardous waste but not treated as so and are still disposed of as normal trash in many places. "They are generally mixed with domestic garbage and will not be treated separately during disposal," said a member of staff at Beijing Environmental Sanitation. "Compared with the 26,000 to 28,000 tons of daily garbage in Beijing, the amount of [expired drugs) is very low and they can only be put onto landfills alongside household waste."
"There is no standardized mechanism for expired drugs," he added. "Only some local governments and enterprises have taken it on themselves to carry out recycling and centralized treatment, most are thrown away as domestic garbage."
Some people will even sell the expired medicines directly to drug dealers for illegal recreational use, he said, adding that although local governments have introduced some regulations treatment, they are guidelines rather than laws.
"Household expired drugs are socially-sourced hazardous waste with scattered sources and small quantities, thus difficult and expensive to collect and dispose of," said Li Jing, assistant secretary general of the Hazardous Wastes Professional Committee of China Resources Recycling Association. "Such drugs, if unclassified and uncollected, can be incinerated and disposed among domestic waste with controllable environmental risks. If classified and collected, they must be handed over to the firms with hazardous waste handling licenses."
"China has corresponding laws and regulations and will improve the collection and treatment system of hazardous wastes from social sources," he added.