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Can I Recycle Prescription Drugs?

April 27, 2010 10:14 AM
Children in Ghana, Africa.

Unused drugs from the UK help health care in sub-Saharan Africa

The Department of Health estimates that as much as £800 million worth of medicine prescribed in primary care is wasted every year. There is another option.

Currently the UK government has no recycling scheme for unused drugs and the majority of unwanted medication is thrown away by patients and goes into landfill or is taken back to the pharmacy for incineration. Inter Care - Medical Aid for Africa - is a UK registered charity which collects unused medications from GP's surgeries in the UK and then delivers them free of charge to over 100 health centres in 7 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Patients deliver their unwanted drugs to registered GP surgeries and these are then collected by Inter Care and quality-control checked by a panel of volunteer doctors, nurses and pharmacists. Certain medications cannot be recycled by Inter Care and these are disposed of as clinical waste.

First of all check with your own surgery if they are registered with Inter Care (or another recycling scheme). Gilbert House surgery in Woodfield Lane, Ashtead is certainly registered and there may be other surgeries or pharmacies in Epsom. Lloyds Chemist based at The Old Cottage Hospital certainly, in the past, took back unwanted medication but seemed to be "full" quite often and it was not clear what happened to the unused drugs. If your surgery is NOT registered, encourage them to look at the Inter Care website and get registered. If you know of other recycling schemes or locations for unwanted medicine, please send comments to this website.

Drugs which can be used are checked to ensure that they are at least 15 months from expiry and are housed in their original packaging with no visible signs of tampering. Suitable drugs are then packaged and sent at regular intervals to the African health centres which have requested them.

Inter Care was founded in 1974 by a couple called Dr David Rosenburg and Dr Patricia O'Keefe. Working as GPs in Leicestershire they saw first-hand the wasting of medication occurring in the UK whilst at the same time learning from friends about severe shortages of drugs in Africa.

During visits to Africa in the early '70s Dr Rosenburg discovered a network of African Catholic nuns who were trained as nurses and who ran small rural medical units. The doctors used this network to distribute the medications they had collected and so Inter Care was created. Nowadays Inter Care supplies over 100 units run by people of many different faiths, including Catholicism, Anglicanism and Islam. Sadly the couple have now passed away but their work is continued by trustees and other volunteers.

Finally, if you do know of anyone with suitable unused medication ask them to take it to a registered surgery for recycling. Packaging and delivering the medications to the health centres is the major expense for Inter Care and is increasing significantly over time. To cover this and other costs, Inter Care runs several donation schemes which can be found on their website.