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Why you shouldn't flush your medication down the toilet

September 28th, 2018 by Echo

Adding to NHS debt

According to a 2015 report published by the NHS, an estimated £300 million worth of medical products are wasted in England every year. With the standard cost of UK medical prescriptions totalling £8.80 per person, £300 million amounts to around 34 million individual prescriptions.

It gets even more interesting - and alarming - when you take account of the fact that £814 million is the figure provided by NHS Improvement when they recently reported on the total NHS deficit in the first quarter of 2018/19.

You don’t have to be a Pythagorean-level mathematician to understand that £300 million makes up a pretty large slice of the £814 million deficit.

By ordering our medicines earlier than we need to and ordering more medicine than we need to at one time (perhaps unintentionally), we're adding to the huge debt plaguing our public healthcare system. Which means we’re pretty much shooting ourselves in the foot.


Echo is helping put an end to this kind of wastage by sending reminders through our app prompting you to order your medication only when it’s due to be refilled.

We stagger the reminders for each of your medications so that you only end up ordering the ones you need when you need them. This helps prevent you from stockpiling your medications, which in turn ensures there are no medications lying around your home for anyone to flush away.

You can read more about Echo’s commitment to improving medication adherence here.

Damaging the environment with toxic medication

Though it may not seem obvious at the time, flushing expired medication down the toilet means it will ultimately end up in our water supplies - affecting both our drinking supplies and various freshwater habitats up and down the country.

Gwynne Lyons, Director of Policy at CHEM Trust, has drawn attention to the fact that humans tend to excrete between 30-90% of the medicines we take, and she has said that:

"With so many medicines now being found in our rivers, action on all fronts is needed to protect wildlife and drinking water."

CHEM Trust has also sampled fish contaminated with birth control pills, antidepressants, sedatives, antibiotics, painkillers, and anti-cancer drugs, and this means that UK amphibians, fish and crustaceans alike all stand to experience disruptive alterations in their daily habits, reproductive patterns and standard developments, which could put their lives in jeopardy.

Flushing your medicines down the loo basically means you’re flushing toxins directly into UK aquatic wildlife, so if you enjoy strolling alongside the river for a spot of fly fishing it's a good idea to start disposing of your medications in a more environmentally sustainable way.

Don’t fret: we’ve got some advice on how to do that coming up after this last point about the dangers of flushing your medicine down the toilet.

Putting our health at risk

According to studies listed on the Cancer Research UK website, exposure to increased levels of oestrogen while in the womb can be linked to increased risks of testicular cancer.

But what does that have to do with flushing medicine down the loo?

Well, scientists have been researching the amount of oestrogen in our water supplies and are are growing increasingly concerned that oestrogen-contaminated water can be linked to increased cases of testicular cancer in the UK.

So while you may think that flushing your surplus menopause medication is harmless, it could turn out that it’s actually increasing your husband, brother, son or father’s chances of developing a terminal illness, which is an alarming thought.

The sizeable supplies of other chemicals like chlorine, fluoride and even cocaine already circling around our drains and threatening to harm our collective health means that adding prescription medicines to the bubbling cocktail of sewage is probably one of the worst things we could do.

How do I safely dispose of old or unused medication?

The best way of ensuring any expired or surplus medication is disposed of safely and responsibly is to return it to your local pharmacy.

UK pharmacies are obliged to accept return medication and they will arrange for it's safe disposal. (You can read more about this on the BMA and NHS web pages.)

Disposing of your medication through your pharmacy has the added bonus of ensuring that you don't have any expired medication sitting at home which could be taken by someone you live with; potentially leading to a critical situation.

If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this: flushing away medication does not dispose of it - instead, it adds to the ever-growing problems of water contamination and medication wastage. There's a small chance it may even return to your home and enter your body through the water you drink.

This makes it essential to take unwanted medication down to your local pharmacy once you’re done with it. Doing so will give yourself and everyone else around you the highest chance of safeguarding against any unexpected monetary, environmental, or health complications.


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