The Risks of Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Drugs
Doctors today have a full range of pharmaceutical options to help treat patients. Because of the complex nature of certain conditions, clinically effective medications may pose some serious risks to healthcare and pharmaceutical staff. A common example is antineoplastic agents, which are frequently used in chemotherapy.
These drugs can effectively kill cancer cells. The trade-off is that they also kill healthy cells in the process, which is why patients undergoing chemotherapy experience undesirable side effects such as hair loss.
For people who are battling cancer, often, the benefits outweigh the risks and side effects. For people who don't have cancer, though, exposure offers no benefit. And harmful effects can multiply if they come into contact with hazardous drugs over long periods of time.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) regulations, "About 8 million U.S. healthcare workers are potentially exposed to hazardous drugs, including pharmacy and nursing personnel, physicians, operating room staff, environmental services workers, workers in research laboratories, veterinary care workers, and shipping and receiving personnel."1
Exposure to antineoplastic agents can cause a range of harmful effects. Some are acute, such as headaches, rashes, dizziness, sore throat, or cough. More serious health consequences include impaired fertility, pregnancy loss, congenital disabilities, or even some types of cancer.2
There are a number of measures healthcare leaders can put in place, including the use of CSTDs, that can help minimize dangerous exposure to these drugs. This makes pharmaceutical care safer for everyone involved, including patients and caregivers.