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The after-life of drugs: a responsible care initiative for reducing their environmental impact


To the Editor: It is common for unwanted and expired medicines to be disposed of through general waste or, as raised recently by Fisher and colleagues, into the sewage system.1 These practices adversely affect not only the environment, but also social and economic determinants of health. For example, medicines discarded in household bins may be accessible to unintended recipients including children, increasing the risk of poisonings, misuse and abuse. It is critical that unwanted and/or expired medicines are disposed of safely.

In 1998 the Australian federal government introduced the national Return Unwanted Medicines (RUM) program, run by the not-for-profit company, the National Return and Disposal of Unwanted Medicines Limited, to provide a safe method of disposing of unwanted and expired medicines.2 Through the RUM program, consumers can dispose of unwanted and expired medicines in RUM bins, which are located in participating community pharmacies. Collected medicines are incinerated in accordance with regulatory and Environment Protection Authority requirements. This program is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health, and is one of only a handful of such national programs worldwide. It is offered free of charge to consumers and most…