Medication waste is an unnecessary burden on the health care system. Wasted medication is everyone’s responsibility. Small changes can help reduce the amount of medication being wasted. These savings can be reinvested into more front line care and services.
The scale of medication wastage in Taiwan is currently unknown but estimates are alarming. A report from the Taiwan Pharmacist Association showed that 5498.32kg of medical waste was collected over 200 drug recycling depots in Taipei City in 2014. More recent reports from the New Taipei City Pharmacist Association reported 466kg, worth NT13300000 of medical waste collected by community pharmacies in New Taipei City in just 3 months! These startling figures don’t even take into account the unused medication that aren’t returned to recycling depots, those disposed in the rubbish, nor how many that have been recycled to someone else who could use that particular medication.
An analysis by the Department of Health of Taiwan found that of 980 unwanted medicines, 70% were western medications, 14% Chinese medicine and 17% health food products. Medication waste is a result of many factors but is often attributable to non-compliance. According to the World Health Organisation, there is only 50 per cent adherence to prescriptions in long term condition medications globally. However patients should not always be blamed. In many instances medication waste is not primarily the result of the deliberate action of patients. Patients may stop taking a medication if they recover before their dispensed medicines have all been taken or if therapy has been changed because of ineffectiveness or unwanted side effects.
Reducing medication wastage should be a collective effort by patients and health care professionals. This means not only reducing the amount of medication that are sent away to be incinerated, but also improving repeat prescribing and dispensing systems and encouraging rational cost effective prescribing to minimise the reduced health outcomes that result from people not taking their medication as intended.
Available evidence suggest that the single most effective measure to control wastage by patients and inappropriate prescribing by practitioners has been medication reviews, involving the pharmacist and patient. The pharmacist helps patients to understand how their medication should be used, why they have to take them, and to identify any problems. Pharmacists also play an important role in counselling patients how to dispose unwanted medication in a safe and responsible manner to avoid pollution of the environment and food chain.
As Chinese New Year rolls around this year and spring cleaning is once again on the agenda, encourage patients, friends and relatives to take a good look at their medication cabinets!