June 14, 2019

What do you do with your unwanted medicine?

Have you ever opened your medicines cabinet and discovered medicines there that you’ve no idea why you had them or perhaps they are expired (i.e. past the use by date)? Most people at some time have done this and then wondered what to do with these unwanted medicines.

There is a safe and simple solution close at hand – the Return Unwanted Medicines Project or as we generally call it, the RUM Project. It is important to know that you should not put unwanted medicines into your garbage or tip down the drain or toilet as they may well end up in our water supply.

The RUM Project is a Commonwealth funded program, that provides local pharmacies with a collection bin for any unwanted medicines returned to the pharmacy for disposal. All medicines collected are incinerated at high temperature by an EPA accredited incineration contractor. This method of disposal is the only EPA approved method for the disposal of unwanted medicines.

In the 20 years that the RUM Project has been established, almost 10 million kilograms of unwanted medicines have been incinerated in an environmentally appropriate and safe manner.

RUM bins (the collection bins) are available to all community pharmacies in Australia. This program is not available in public or private hospitals though. You have probably never seen a RUM bin in your local pharmacy, but there will be one in the dispensary under the supervision of the pharmacist. Pharmacists are required to keep the RUM bin in the dispensary, under their direct supervision at all times – it is for your safety, of course.

All you need to do is to take your medicine out of the packaging and into the nearest pharmacy and hand them to the pharmacy staff, and the pharmacist will then place them into the RUM bin. Tablets, capsules, tubes of cream and ointment, eye and ear drops and nasal sprays can all be put into the RUM bin if no longer required.

If you have an Inhaler (e.g. Ventolin inhalers) that are no longer required, you can separate the cannister from the plastic device and only return the cannister to the pharmacy for disposal if there is still medicine in it. The plastic device can be placed into your recycling.

It is a completely confidential service. No records are kept of the returned medicines, unless the medicines are Schedule 8 medicines (examples are Endone and Oxycontin) and pharmacists are required by law to record them before they are destroyed (but these records are also confidential
and do not leave the pharmacy).

There is some recycling that you can do though – all cardboard packaging, glass or plastic containers can be recycled in your household recycling. To maintain your privacy though, it is recommended that your black out your name on the labels placed on your dispensed items. It is completely safe to place these items into your recycling, and then take your medicines only along to the pharmacy for disposal.

The RUM Project does not accept sharps for disposal and any sharps will need to be disposed of separately and appropriately. Many local councils will be able to assist with the correct disposal method, but it does vary from state to state and even region to region. Your local pharmacist may be able to help, so it is always worth asking the question if you have sharps for disposal but remember that sharps should never be placed in your garbage bin.

You may well ask, why is it important to remove any unwanted medicines from your home – perhaps you might need them again?

More than 1000 people aged over 65 required hospitalisation due to medicine poisonings across Australia in 2010. As well as older Australians, unwanted medicines in homes also pose a health hazard for children, with more than 5000 ending up in hospital due to medicine poisoning every
year, according to the Australian Poisons Information Centre. It is definitely a safety issue keeping medicines that you do not need any longer.

And it is so simple:

• Check your medicines cupboard
• Read the label – do you still need the medicine
• Check expiry date – is it expired
• Remove the unwanted medicines
• Remove any packaging that could be recycled
• Return the unwanted medicines to your local pharmacy for safe disposal

And of course, there is no charge to you when you return your unwanted medicines.

The Return of Unwanted Medicines Project is a free service that offers a way to dispose of unwanted or expired medicines safely and conveniently at your local community pharmacy. Find out more about the service here.

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