What to do with wasted or unused medication



Every year it is estimated that as much as £300 million is lost within the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) due to unused or partially used medication that cannot be recycled or re-used.

To put that into context, this money could pay for more than 80,000 annual hip replacements, almost 20,000 annual drug treatment courses for breast cancer sufferers or 300,000 more annual drug treatment courses for Alzheimer’s.

Wasted or unused medication is a dangerous and escalating issue for the NHS. However, we can all do our bit to reduce the drain on resources. There is a nationwide campaign called ‘Only Order What You Need’ which is working closely with the NHS to ask patients to think more carefully before ordering repeat prescriptions.

Individuals are being asked to undertake regular reviews of their household medicine cabinet to ensure that they have exhausted all the medical supplies they have been given. These checks are also important to ensure that medication has not passed its expiry date. Expired medicine presents a risk of being unsafe to patients as they become ineffective as time goes by.

Fortunately, there are many ways that you can help to improve the recycling and sustainability of medications, saving precious money for your local NHS in return:

Don’t make repeat prescriptions until you absolutely need them

  • Make your Pharmacist and/or GP aware if you’ve stopped taking any of your prescribed medication
  • Revisit the medicines you have in your medication box at home prior to re-ordering
  • Only tick the boxes on your repeat prescription form for medicines you really need
  • If you need to go into hospital for any reason, remember to take your medication with you in a clearly marked bag. Our Medpac Drawstring Bags are ideal for this scenario
  • Under no circumstances should you share your medication with anyone else

Unused medication cannot be recycled

  • Once any medication – open or otherwise – leaves the Pharmacy, it cannot be recycled or used by another patient
  • All unused medication should be brought to your local Pharmacy for safe disposal
  • Never throw unused medicine down the sink or toilet, or in the bin. Flushing medication into our drainage system poses significant risks to the wider environment and can also lead them to being found by children and vulnerable adults that they are not intended for

Calling all asthma sufferers: Inhalers can be recycled

  • It is said that as many as 73 million inhalers are used throughout the UK each year
  • Asthma sufferers that dispose of unused inhalers via landfill pose a significant risk to the wider environment, both in material waste and greenhouse gas emissions (via the inhaler’s gas canister)
  • If each inhaler-user across Britain returned their unused or unfinished inhalers throughout the year, it would save more than half-a-million tonnes of CO2eq – equivalent to the emissions created by a Volkswagen Golf vehicle being driven around the world 88,606 times!

By minimising the amount of medicines being wasted every year – and the environmental risks posed by not recycling unused medication – we could increase the available funding for other desperately needed services in the NHS.

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