Returned medicines: Waste or a wasted opportunity?

Adam J. Mackridge*, John F. Marriott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Re-use of unused medicines returned from patients is currently considered unethical in the UK and these are usually destroyed by incineration. Previous studies suggest that many of these medicines may be in a condition suitable for re-use. Methods: All medicines returned over two months to participating community pharmacies and GP surgeries in Eastern Birmingham PCT were assessed for type, quantity and value. A registered pharmacist assessed packs against set criteria to determine the suitability for possible re-use. Results: Nine hundred and thirty-four return events were made from 910 patients, comprising 3765 items worth £33 608. Cardiovascular drugs (1003, 27%) and those acting on the CNS (884, 24%) were most prevalent. Returned packs had a median of 17 months remaining before expiry and one-quarter of packs (1248 out of 4291) were suitable for possible re-use. One-third of those suitable for re-use (476 out of 1248) contained drugs in the latest WHO Essential Drugs List. Conclusion: Unused medicines are returned in substantial quantities and have considerable financial value, with many in a condition suitable for re-use. We consider it appropriate to reopen the debate on the potential for re-using these medicines in developing countries where medicines are not widely available and also within the UK. © The Author 2007, Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Faculty of Public Health. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258-262
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Public Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2007


  • equipment reuse
  • primary health care
  • unused medicines


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