Medicines non-use in primary care

  • Adam J. Mackridge

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This study expands the current knowledge base on the nature, causes and fate of unused medicines in primary care.
Three methodologies were used and participants for each element were sampled from the population of Eastern Birmingham PCT. A detailed assessment was made of medicines returned to pharmacies and GP surgeries for destruction and a postal questionnaire covering medicines use and disposal was used to patients randomly selected from the electoral roll. The content of this questionnaire was informed by qualitative data from a group interview on the subject. By use of these three methods it was possible to triangulate the data, providing a comprehensive assessment of unused medicines.
Unused medicines were found to be ubiquitous in primary care and cardiovascular, diabetic and respiratory medicines are unused in substantial quantities, accounting for a considerable proportion of the total financial value of all unused medicines. Additionally, analgesic and psychoactive medicines were highlighted as being unused in sufficient quantities for concern. Anti-infective medicines also appear to be present and unused in a substantial proportion of patients’ homes.
Changes to prescribed therapy and non-compliance were identified as important factors leading to the generation of unused medicines. However, a wide array of other elements influence the quantities and types of medicines that are unused including the concordancy of GP consultations and medication reviews and patient factors such as age, sex or ethnicity.
Medicines were appropriately discarded by 1 in 3 patients through return to a medical or pharmaceutical establishment. Inappropriate disposal was by placing in household refuse or through grey and black water with the possibility of hoarding or diversion also being identified. No correlations wre found between the weight of unused medicines and any clinical or financial factor.
The study has highlighted unused medicines to be an issue of some concern and one that requires further study.
Date of AwardSept 2005
Original languageEnglish


  • unused medicines
  • medicines waste

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