Tag Archives: poisoning

Counties Pursue Safer Drug Disposal

New programs to make it easier and safer for San Francisco Bay Area residents to get rid of unused medications are some of the first to try this on a large scale, and may serve as models for other cities and counties.

Since May 2012, a pilot program in San Francisco has allowed residents to drop off old medications at 13 pharmacies and 10 police stations (where controlled substances must be brought). San Francisco supervisors initially considered forcing drug companies to fund the program, and instead agreed to accept $110,000 from Genentech and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America to fund the program.

(Photo by J. Troha, courtesy of National Cancer Institute)

On July 24, supervisors in Alameda County (which includes East Bay cities such as Oakland and Berkeley) are likely to approve a Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance that would require drug companies to pay for disposal of their products or face fines of up to $1,000 per day, The Bay Citizen reports. Public agencies currently fund 25 drug disposal sites there, and the cash-strapped county wants the comparatively wealthy pharmaceutical industry to take more financial responsibility for the lifecycle of its products in order to reduce overdoses, accidental poisonings, and water pollution.

As we reported earlier this year, making prescription-drug “recycling” a cultural norm is one of five emerging public policies that could help the medical system keep opioids available while reducing the risk of addiction, abuse and accidental overdose, according to Keith N. Humphreys, Ph.D. Smaller versions have met with success, such as a drug take-back day organized by sheriffs in a small town in Arkansas (population 20,000) that brought in 25,000 pills, said Dr. Humphreys, acting director of the Center for Health Care Evaluation, Veterans Health Administration, Menlo Park, Calif., and a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He reports having no financial conflicts of interest on this issue.

Not everyone is happy with the idea. Trade associations for the pharmaceutical industry and biomedical companies argue that there’s no evidence that these programs will reduce poisonings, and they haven’t ruled out the possibility of suing to block the Alameda County ordinance, The Bay Citizen reports. The compromise that San Francisco reached for voluntary instead of mandatory funding from the pharmaceutical industry may be a middle ground.

In an era when government agencies have less and less money for public programs, it’s probably inevitable that they’ll pursue alternative financing for programs like this.

If your community has a drug disposal program, let us know how it’s working. Will these programs succeed, and will they reduce abuse, addiction, and accidental overdoses? We’ll keep an eye on this topic, and keep you posted.

–Sherry Boschert (@sherryboschert on Twitter)

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Beauty Poisoning

Foreign-made skin-lightening creams, found to contain toxic levels of mercury, are poisoning users as well as the people they live with, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC identified a Mexican-made cream as the likely source of mercury exposure in 22 people in 5 households in California and Virginia. While previous cases have shows similar levels of mercury exposure from skin-lightening creams, this is the first instance where exposure has been measured in non-users, CDC said. The non-labeled creams contained  2%-5.7% mercury.

Skin lightening agents that are readily available for sale in Ghana/ ©2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Among the sample, 15 people ages 8 months to 67 years had elevated urinary mercury concentrations (9 users and 6 non-users). Non-users were exposed to the mercury through contact with cream users or with contaminated household items, the CDC said.  Younger children, compared to older children, had much higher concentrations.

While 15 people had elevated mercury levels, only 6 (all users) exhibited symptoms of mercury exposure. Users of the skin-lightening creams said they had used it as an acne treatment, for skin-lightening, and to fade freckles.

Although mercury-containing creams are banned by the Food and Drug Administration, high levels of mercury have been found in foreign-made skin-lightening creams across the country, including Chicago, New York, Minnesota, and Baltimore.

In 2010, an FDA spokesperson told the Chicago Tribune that with fewer than 500 inspectors dedicated to reviewing imports, banned items often get through anyway. The FDA could not comment before press time.

The CDC advises clinicians who recognize mercury toxicity to consider mercury-containing creams as a possible cause, even for children. Consult a medical toxicologist before beginning treatment, CDC advises.

—Frances Correa (@FMCReporting on Twitter)

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Filed under Dermatology, Family Medicine, IMNG, Primary care