4 MIN READ | Health Psychology

News Release

Survey Reveals 40% of People Admit Taking Harmful Medications

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News Release, (2022, February 2). Survey Reveals 40% of People Admit Taking Harmful Medications. Psychreg on Health Psychology. https://www.psychreg.org/harmful-medications/
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More than a third (36%) of people admit to taking potentially harmful medications due to not checking their use-by date. 4 in 10 people regularly restock their medicine cabinets, with 25-34-year-olds the savviest at keeping medicines in stock. Further 3 in 10 people (29%) also admitted taking medications not prescribed to them, with 28% borrowing medication from friends if they don’t have it in their cupboards.

Chemist4U has surveyed 2,000 people from across the UK to determine how they manage their medicine cabinets, from the medications they like to keep in stock, to how often they clear out unused or out of date medications. Take a look at the full findings here.

Keeping a well-stocked medicine cabinet is an excellent way to be prepared for any common illnesses or health problems that can take you by surprise. However, they’re also a part of the home that can often be neglected, with half-empty packets and bottles strewn haphazardly around the bathroom. 

So, how good are we at keeping our medicine cabinets stocked up appropriately, and how do we manage old or unused medications?

Prescriptions going to waste

From September 2020 to August 2021, there were 1,112,384,981 prescriptions prescribed in England. Chemist4U surveyed 2,000 respondents in England, and up to 40% of people admitted throwing away unused prescription medication. Based on these results of 2 in 5 people throwing away unused prescription medication, an estimated figure of up to 444,953,992 prescriptions could be wasted and thrown away.

It is important to note that individual prescriptions can vary from one item to multiple items. Some medication may be considered unused when no longer needed, the treatment course has ended, or there have been changes to the diagnosis. 

This statistic is particularly alarming given the cost of medications to the NHS, despite 56% of people saying they’re aware of the costs associated with prescriptions. If the cost of unused prescriptions was reduced, the NHS could instead pay for more community nurses or drug treatments for significant illnesses.

With 40% of people throwing unused medication in the bin, there’s also clearly a lack of knowledge around the best way to dispose of medications. Instead, medications should be taken back to a pharmacy or sent to an online provider for safe disposal.

How are we stocking our medicine cabinets?

Of the 2,000 people surveyed, 4 in 10 (41%) told us that they regularly restock their medicine cabinets, ensuring they have all of the essential supplies on their shelves. However, those aged 2534 years old are most likely to do a regular restock, with almost half saying that they do this, followed by 35-44-year-olds (48%), with those aged 55+ the least likely to do a restock (32%).

When it comes to the medications we like to keep in stock, paracetamol and ibuprofen are revealed as the two most popular products, with more than half (52%) of people keeping a pack of paracetamol in the house at all times, and 36% keeping stock of ibuprofen. Cold and flu tablets (28%), antiseptic cream (26%) and vitamins (25%) were also among the top five medications. 

However, surprisingly more than 7% of people admitted to not having any medicines in their house, with almost 1 in 10 men (9.85%) without any medical supplies, vs just 4.56% of women.

The last items left on the shelf

Although more than 3 in 5 (62%) people check the use-by dates on their medications, more than a third (36%) admit to taking medicines without looking at the label first. Expired medications can be less effective or even harmful due to changes in chemical composition or strength over time. 

As a result, it’s important to regularly review your medications and clear out any past their best. Nearly half (47%) of people surveyed agreed that they do regularly. However, more than 2 in 10 (22.92%) said they don’t do it regularly.

Looking at the products left on the shelf for the longest, paracetamol tablets are the item that many people (7%) found to be the oldest in their cupboards. Vicks (6.9%), ibuprofen (4%) and cough medicines (3.8%) were also among the top three. However, more specific and potentially one-time purchase products for a short-term condition such as bite cream, eye drops and inhalers also featured among the fifteen oldest products. 

Our medicine cabinet secrets

Although many people regularly restock their medicine cabinets and ensure that they’re covered for any eventuality, those that don’t often find their medications through slightly unconventional methods when needed.

Nearly 3 in 10 (29%) people surveyed admitted taking medications that weren’t prescribed for them, a potentially dangerous habit as medications could be ineffective unless prescribed by a doctor or cause serious reactions. Millennials were the age group most likely to do this of those taking medication not prescribed for them, with more than 4 in 10 (42%) having done so previously.

A similar number of people (28.41%) said that they also borrow medication from their friends if they don’t have it in their cupboards, with those aged 1624 most likely to do so, with 45.32% agreeing to this statement. However, the number of those borrowing medication does decrease significantly with age, with only 11.37% of those aged 55+ likely to borrow medication. For more information on our medicine cabinet secrets, visit Chemist4U.

James O’Loan, Pharmacist and CEO at Chemist4U, comments: ‘It’s great to see that so many people are keeping a stock of essential medicines in their home so that they can treat any illnesses or ailments effectively and quickly where self-treatment can be used.’

‘However, it’s alarming to see safe use of medicines is not always being followed, with the borrowing of medications and taking prescription medications without a prescription a fairly common occurrence. This can have serious consequences, so it’s always advisable to speak to a GP, pharmacist or other health professionals if you have any worries or concerns and feel like you may need medical assistance.’ 

‘It’s saddening to see just how much medication is being thrown away and the cost of this to our health services and the environment if not properly disposed of. In some cases, particularly for items like topical creams, eye drops and inhalers that may be used for short-term conditions, there’s always a high chance that not all of the product may be used. In cases like this, it’s important to dispose of any medication that’s no longer needed in the correct way, rather than simply throwing it in the bin too.’


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