Many of us may have wondered what to do with the unused medication that is wasting away in our homes. Do we throw it in the trash or flush it down the toilet? There is another way.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures in the US, ‘drug recycling’ or redistribution programs allow residents to return unused prescribed medicines in sealed packaging, which are then redistributed to the needy, who cannot afford to purchase their prescribed medication.
Sharjah-based students have found a way to do this in the UAE. A youth group, called Students for the Earth, initiated a campaign to collect unused medicines in order to support both environmental and humanitarian causes.
Arushi Madan, the president of the youth group, told Gulf News: “We have been working on environmental, social and voluntary events throughout the year. In June, with the month of Ramadan, we thought of doing something different. When it comes to the environment, people focus on things like plastic and paper. We decided to focus on medicines. When medicines are not used, either because the doctor changed the prescription or told the patient to stop the medication, there is no reason for people to keep the medicines. With some research, we found that the Emirates Red Crescent accepts unused medicines. We contacted them and they confirmed that they would, provided the medicines are sealed, unused, in a good condition and have an expiry date of a year or longer.”
Madan and her group launched the campaign on their social media pages and spoke to their neighbours and those living in their communities. They clearly informed everyone of the requirements that Emirates Red Crescent had outlined.
Madan said: “We were pleasantly surprised by the response. On July 3, we sorted through the entire collection and checked every box of medicine that had been given to us, to ensure that they were all sealed and the expiry date was a year from now. Additionally, if anything needed refrigeration, for example insulin injections, it was stored properly.”
The group collected more than 1,000 units of medicines, of over 120 different types, including nasal drops, cough syrups, paracetamol and ointments.
Madan said: “The charity organisation was kind enough to arrange for a pick up from our location. On the day of the collection, we hosted a small event at the Jamal Abdul Nasser Street in Sharjah where we addressed the gathering and thanked them for their contributions. We also made them take a ‘green pledge’ to be more environmentally conscious. Three officers from the organisation arrived at our assembly points and were impressed with our collection. They informed us that they would use the medicines for those who cannot afford them. They have a medical centre in Sharjah where poor patients are treated and cured for free. So, the medicines we donated would be distributed amongst those patients.”
Abhinnand Krishna, a pupil based in Sharjah, was one of the people who participated in this campaign.
He said: “It raised awareness concerning drug donations. Instead of wasting medicine, we can save a life by donating it and I am proud and happy to have had the chance to participate in such an initiative.”
Another pupil, Neola Castelino said: “Since I can’t donate money to charities, I thought I could try my best to donate medicines to the Emirates Red Crescent. I felt happy after collecting and donating the same for the needy.”
We asked readers what they did with their unused medicines.
Paula Victor, an Abu Dubai-resident, drops the medicine off at Ruwais Hospital in the capital.
She said: “Since it is unsafe to dispose and I do not condone giving medicines to people who have not been prescribed such, I prefer to take all my unused medicines to the local clinic, hospital or dispensary. I have taken it every time and I honestly believe it is the best way of disposal.”
However, many other readers preferred to simply throw away unused medicines.
Fatima Suhail, a Sharjah resident, said: “Medicines for common illnesses such as cough, flu, fever or pain killers are often kept in our first aid box for future use, as long as they are valid. Unused medicines for specific illnesses, such as diabetes, hypertension or antihistamine, are often discarded.”
Farhanah D. posted a comment on the official Gulf News Facebook page: “Medicine is prescribed to a particular person for a particular reason. It could be extremely dangerous if another person gets hold of it and has an allergic reaction to it. If it’s not all used, it should be disposed securely.”
However, the disposal of pharmaceuticals is more complex than just throwing it in the trash or flushing it down. A large section of the population use over-the-counter medicines, even for simple ailments such as the viral flu, as stated by experts in a Gulf News report published last month. Doctors have said that many patients also never take the full course of antibiotics, or other medication prescribed to them.
A poll conducted on gulfnews.com recently showed that nearly 60 per cent of people do not complete their prescribed course of medication. This results in a number of pill boxes in the medicine cabinet at home that remain unused.
According to the Health Authority — Abu Dhabi (HAAD), little is known about the potential health effects to humans and other organisms exposed to discarded medication. Flushing medicine down the toilet or pouring unused liquids down the sink might be acceptable, but research shows that these are not desirable disposal methods. HAAD states that modern wastewater treatment plants are not designed to address medication disposal.
They suggest taking drugs out of their original containers and mixing them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds. Liquids should be poured over paper towels, which should be kept in resealable bags to prevent the medication from leaking. When in doubt about proper disposal, ask a pharmacist. Some pharmacies in the capital and Dubai have started accepting unused medication for them to be disposed off properly as per international standards. These are referred to as ‘take back’ programs.