We’re a nation of hoarders

new study finds 60% of Australians are keeping medicines in case they are needed again

New research published in the Australian Health Review shows Australia is a nation of hoarders when it comes to medicine.

Most people (75%) said they kept medicines in case they needed them in the future. Other reasons included not wanting to waste money, not knowing how to dispose of them, intending to give them to family and friends, or forgetting the medicines were there.

People reported commonly storing their medicines in kitchens, bedrooms and/or bathrooms. When the same medicines are stored in multiple locations, people could accidentally take higher doses than recommended.

This is because of the same medicine can lead to confusion and the risk of duplicating a dose, said the authors of the report.

“Many people were surprised at how many of their medicines were expired and some reported using expired medicines. This can delay treatment if they are less effective, and sterile treatments such as eye drops could be harmful if they have become contaminated.

“When people said they had previously disposed of unwanted medicines, the most common reasons for this were that medicines had expired, were no longer needed, or treatment had changed.”

In the garbage and down the toilet

In the 12 months to 2012, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that more than one million Australian households discarded unwanted medicines with their usual garbage.

“Our survey also found evidence that this was still happening, with most respondents (65%) having disposed of unwanted medicines this way. About a quarter (23%) said they had poured unwanted medicines down the drain or toilet.

“Either of these disposal methods can cause problems. For instance, there is the risk of identity theft from personal information on medicine labels disposed of in the garbage.

“Then there are potential risks from medications that end up in surfaceand drinking water. This is because sewerage systems are not equipped to remove medicines and their metabolites (biproducts) effectively. So these can be discharged into waterways and subsequently into drinking water supplies. Medicines disposed in the garbage end up in landfill and may leach out more slowly into water systems.”

The RUM Project

In 1998, the Australian government introduced the Return Unwanted Medicines Project as a free scheme. 

Last year the scheme collected and safely disposed of more than 700 tonnes of medicines, preventing them from ending up in waterways or landfill. About one in five (22%) people in our survey said they had returned unwanted medicines to a pharmacy.

“Our study found more than 80% of people hadn’t heard of the scheme; this was for both consumers and health-care workers. However, once they knew about it, 92% said they would use it.

“All health professionals, not just pharmacists, can remind people to return their unwanted medicines so they can be disposed of safely.”

Key findings: 

  • Pharmacists dispensed 208 million government-subsidised prescriptions in the 2015-16 financial year.
  • In a 2015 national survey, eight out of ten adults said they had used at least one non-prescription medicine in the previous month.
  • Almost two out of three people (60%) surveyed said they had unwanted medicines at home, and one-third (33%) of these medicines had expired.
  • More than 80% of people hadn’t heard of the Federal Government’s Return Unwanted Medicines Scheme. However once they knew about it, 92% said they would use it.

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