Astonishing numbers: residents bring back tons of medicine


2022 04 19


30 tonnes – this was the amount of expired or unneeded medication, collected from the residents last year. This is twice as much than only five years ago, when the amount of the medicine to be disposed of collected was more than 14 tonnes per year. Experts of the National Health Insurance Fund under the Ministry of Health (NHIF) are pleased with patients becoming more responsible in sorting their waste, but also notice a problem – if the amounts of medicine disposed are so huge, why do people purchase so much in the first place?

‘On one hand, such a rapid increase in the amount of medicine to be disposed of shows that more and more Lithuanian residents are becoming more responsible about sorting unused medicine choosing to bring them back to pharmacies instead of throwing out in the waste bin or the sewer. On the other, we do realise that there wouldn't be any disposable medicine if we made rational choices in prescribing or purchasing it.’ says Irma Medžiaušaitė, Advisor of the Pharmaceuticals Reimbursement Division.
Calculations, conducted by health insurance funds, show that the number of reimbursable medicine packages sold last year was 21.2 million, which is 5 per cent more than the year before.

Interestingly, during the same year, there was a similar increase – 4 per cent – in the collection of pharmaceutical waste as well.

It was also noticed, that during the second half of 2021, the number of fully-reimbursable (with no payment on the patient's behalf) medicine packages sold was 4.4 million. This is 8 per cent more than during the second half of 2020, when the new procedure of medicine reimbursement had just come into force. Thus, improving availability of the medicine also increases the consumption of reimbursed medicine. Patients are inclined to use the opportunity to acquire significantly more medicine that is free.

‘Both the World Health Organisation and Lithuanian medics and health care experts keep reminding that consumption of medicine should be responsible, in moderation and upon consulting with a physician or a pharmacist. However, a number of people disregard their physician's advice, purchasing and consuming medicine at their own discretion, often purchasing a larger amount of medicine used for the first time, especially if it's offered with a discount. If patients were rational with their medicine purchases and consumption, while physicians gave a second thought about issuing a prescription, we wouldn’t be needing to empty our drawers of expired medication, and could save millions of euros for other needs.’ says Medžiaušaitė.

Health insurance funds are kindly reminding that physicians prescribing a new type of reimbursable medication for a patient, can offer an initial prescription for a maximum of 10 days if the illness is acute and, in other cases – for a course of one month of treatment. Only upon making sure that the medication is suitable, safe and effective for the patient, a physician can prescribe a longer course of treatment, lasting from 3 to 6 months. Physicians prescribing medicine for long-term treatment should also indicate the frequency that patients should visit the pharmacy to purchase the medicine. Patients with a prescription for long-term treatment can visit the pharmacy more often – every 2 or 3 months – and purchase smaller amounts of medicine, thus having to pay a smaller sum. Should their treatment be changed, they would have less unused medicine left at home.

It’s important to note that all medicine that is expired or unneeded any more should be brought to a pharmacy, where it must be collected free of charge. The duty of collecting old medicine is applicable to all pharmacies. Should any pharmacy refuse to collect expired medicine, this must be reported to the State Medicines Control Agency under the Ministry of Health.

Medical aids, including syringes, are also regarded as hazardous medical waste, and cannot be disposed of anywhere. In cases, when syringes are used at patient homes by medical staff, they should also collect and take them with them. The same procedure applies to IV drips, used medical gloves and other waste – their disposal is the responsibility of the medical staff. In cases when medicines are self-administered by the residents, they can dispose of the collected syringes free of charge at their municipal waste collection points. These waste collection points also accept medical thermometers.

Expired or unneeded food supplements can be disposed of to mixed municipal waste containers, as food supplements are not medicine. Meanwhile, vitamins that can be classified as medicine, are taken by pharmacies, and, if they are not, then they must be disposed of to mixed municipal waste containers.

(Piktochart photo)

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Your questions are welcome by email [email protected] or phone: local (8 5) 232 2222, international +370 5 232 222