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Handling Unused Medicines


Environmental pollution is a global issue that has to be managed promptly by the society to prevent further destruction of the earth. Currently, we are being exposed to continuous news of water pollution, air pollution, sound pollution and others. Water pollution may occur due to unorganized disposal of toxic substances and chemicals, including medicines. Looking at the micro point of view, the act of unplanned disposal of unnecessary medicines is a starting point of environmental pollution, especially water pollution.

Being the wise consumers and caring towards the health wellbeing of our future generations, we should be concerned of the safe and environmental-friendly aspects of the disposals of unnecessary medicines as according to the proper guidelines. ‘Returning Medicines’ campaign organized by the Pharmaceutical Services Division are being held to ensure that medicines are being disposed through the correct and safe method.

Besides that, storing excess medicines at home may increase the risk of medication errors.

The cause of excess medicines

Before returning the medicines at nearby pharmacies, let us think of the factors that contribute to excess medicines at home. Usually, medicines are given by the doctors sufficiently, just enough for our needs. However, there may be various possibilities that can result in the storage of excess medicines, in which the patient:

  • Stops taking medicines when the patient is feeling better

  • Gets the medicines from multiple sources

  • Stops taking medicines because the patient is not convinced that taking medicines can cure the condition or illness that he is having

  • Stops taking medicines due to doctor’s advice

  • Did not take medicines as instructed by the doctor

  • Has get a change in the treatment regime

  • Forgot to take the medicines

  • Had passed away

Patients shall take the supplied medicines as instructed so that the illness is cured or the disease is well-controlled. If there is any problem, discuss with the doctor and pharmacist.

The Risk of Keeping Unnecessary Medicines

Making sure that the medicine cabinet is clean and only storing the needed medicines are important to the patient’s and the family’s safety. A medicine cabinet that is not well organized may increase the risk of medication error. Does your medicine cabinet contain any unnecessary or expired medicines? If yes, then you are exposed to these risks :

  • Error in taking medicines, for example, accidently consuming expired medicines

  • Consuming the wrong dose or wrong type of medicine due to unclear or damaged labels

  • Risk of children getting overdose medicine that can harm them or cause toxicity.

Handling Unnecessary Medicine

Damaged or unnecessary medicine should be disposed systemically and safely. Three steps advisable in handling unnecessary medicines are:

  • Step 1 :Separate medicines that are expired, no longer used, damaged, changed in terms of physical characteristics and colours and also medicines in which the labels. Put the medicines that have been separated into an appropriate container, such as a box or paper bag.

  • Step 2 : Bring the medicines to the nearby government hospital or health clinic for further action.

  • Step 3 : Tell your relatives, friends and neighbours about this ‘Returning Medicines’ campaign.

Advantages of Safe Disposal of Medicines

Medicines that are collected in the pharmacy will be disposed as according to the guidelines to reduce the risk of contamination to the environment.

There are many benefits that can be gained through safe disposal of medicines, such as :

  • Ensuring us and the upcoming generations to live in clean and conserved environment.

  • Ensuring the medicines are not being misused by the wrong individuals.

  • Reducing the water treatment cost. We have to admit that eliminating the source of pharmaceutical contamination is better than having to maintain high water treatment cost if our source of water is contaminated.

Consumer Tips

  • The medicine cabinet should be inspected regularly to avoid storing unnecessary medicines.

  • Disposal of medicines into garbage bin is not encouraged. You need to know that the medicines’ residues will be dumped into garbage disposal site and hence contributing to environmental contamination. Besides, there is also possibility that the container or the box of medicine is being misused by irresponsible individuals.

  • Get involved in the ‘Returning Medicines’ campaign held in nearby government hospitals or health clinics.

  • Erase or cover all details of the patient that is written on the labels of medicine to protect your identity and confidentiality of your medical information.

  • Avoid giving any unused medicine that is prescribed to you to any of your family members or friends. Doctors prescribe medicine to certain patient based on the individual’s specific condition. Remember, the medicine that works for you may be harmful to others.

  • Contact your pharmacists if you are having problems when handling unnecessary medicine.


We have only one Earth, therefore we should learn to care and conserve our world. Although we might not be able to contribute that much in doing so, let us start by handling the unused medicines the right way. Grab the opportunity of returning medicines campaign to return the unused medicines to your nearby goverment health facilities.

Last Reviewed : 23 April 2014
Writer : Munira bt. Muhammad
Reviewer : Yam Chiew Fong