September 14, 2023

Occupational Health Risks from Medication Preparation

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Occupational Health Risks from Medication Preparation

Particulate Matter Inhalation from Pharmaceutical Dust

Pharmacists, eldercare personnel, lab techs, and healthcare workers such as nurses and physicians’ assistants handle medicines regularly. Unfortunately, preparing and administering powder-based drugs creates a potentially unhealthy air quality situation. (1)

The health risk begins when someone breaks down a tablet by cutting, splitting, or crushing. This common practice offers important advantages such as cost savings, administering proper dosages, and in many cases, allows a patient with difficulty swallowing to receive the medicine they need.

This process releases particulate matter into the air that can then be inhaled or absorbed through the eyes or skin if protective measures are not in place. Even manually counting tablets (or using a dispensing machine) can create microscopic dusts. This type of medication management exposes handlers to the same drugs they administer to improve others’ health. Imagine breathing in the dusts of highly toxic agents used in opioids, psychiatric prescriptions, and chemotherapy drugs – to name only a few – day after day, year after year.

Patient Health

Occupational drug handling is a crucial and life-saving part of patientcare. For example, some hospital and nursing home patients are tube-fed and require their pills be mixed with liquid in order for them to ingest them. Pharmacists routinely adjust dosages according to doctors’ instructions by cutting or splitting tablets. Pharmaceutical lab technicians crush pills to alter dosage form, remove substances a patient is sensitive to, or combine multiple medicines for custom compounding of a prescription. All of these examples are for the wellness and care of the patient who requires the medicine. But in doing so, the professional puts themselves at risk, as many researchers have proven.

For example, a study by the National Institutes of Health (2) determined that the patientcare practice of pill crushing can disperse particulate matter (PM) into indoor air. The PM is a widespread air pollutant composed of microscopic particles and droplets of various sizes and may carry active or inactive ingredients nurses can inhale. Their conclusion? Pharmaceutical dosing or medicine altering creates a workplace safety hazard and that healthcare professionals should wear proper protective equipment (PPE) and use air cleaning products to remove PM emissions. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that managing occupational risk from hazardous drugs should include engineering controls (3) such as air filtration.

Exposure Prevention

While pharmacists, lab techs, and healthcare providers are aware of the hazards associated with inhalable dust from the pills and powders they handle, containment remains a constant battle. Fortunately for our healthcare and pharmaceutical customers, several air cleaning products in our inventory protect workers from indoor air pollution, such as our portable models BT981 and SP987-3 and our S-984-1 tabletop version. (4) 

At AIRSInc., we have the experience, depth of knowledge, and superior products to protect our customers and their patients and workers.  Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our air quality specialists.

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