World debut: 4 Dutch hospitals will start re-prescribing unused medicines
Every year, 100 million euros worth of medicines are thrown away in the Netherlands. This is a real shame, of course, which is why four hospitals are now going to re-prescribe expensive, unused medicines to patients.
This is a pilot project in which expensive cancer drugs that patients have left at home will be reused. After being examined by a pharmacist, these medicines can be prescribed for another patient. And that is a world debut, according to the four cooperating hospitals.
'An incredible profit to be made'
Charlotte Bekker is a biomedical scientist and has been researching how to reduce the waste of medicines for years for the Radboudumc in Nijmegen. "Especially with these expensive medicines, sometimes worth a thousand euros per package, a lot of profit can be made", the researcher explains.
Until now it has not been possible to put returned medicines back into circulation. According to the Royal Dutch Pharmaceutical Society (KNMP), this is because it is impossible to check whether the product has been stored correctly. To avoid any risk, the unused pills are therefore thrown away.
Hand it in or flush it down the toilet?
And that number quickly increases. Research from a panel of more than 3,000 people shows that six out of ten Dutch people return their unused medicines to the pharmacist. Almost a quarter throws them away or flushes them down the toilet. A small group (4 percent) hands them in at the municipal waste disposal point.
Pharmacist Marco Lourens from Malden, Gelderland, regularly notices that customers are surprised when they hear that the medicines they hand in will be safely destroyed at the waste processor. "But after some explanation, they understand it, but it still remains a shame."
Smarter packaging of medicines
However, Bekker and her team have now found a solution to this waste by smartly packaging the medicines. The substance is sealed and a temperature chip is added. This allows the pharmacist to determine the quality of the pills and thus decide whether to re-prescribe them to another patient.
But do we really dare to take those repackaged pills? Yes, according to the panel survey. About two-thirds of the participants say that they take these medicines "naturally", provided they have been thoroughly checked by the pharmacist. Yet just over a quarter say they would not dare to.
Common procedure soon?
Researcher Bekker says that if this trial with cancer drugs is successful, the new method will be rolled out more widely. "And I will always continue to look for a solution to combat waste. There is now also still room for improvement, for example in the field of prevention or better customization."
The KNMP will also continue to follow the project with interest. In the meantime, the organization emphasizes that people should always hand in unused medicines or medicine residues to the pharmacy or a municipal waste point. "Don't throw it in the trash, don't flush it down the toilet, but take it safely to your own pharmacy."