Unused prescription drugs cost the NHS £300million every year – 40% of Britons admit to having rejected them


Unused prescription drugs cost NHS £300m every year – 40% of Britons admit to throwing away unused medicines, potentially wasting up to 445m prescriptions a year.

  • More than a third (36%) of people admit to taking potentially harmful medicines, failing to check their expiry date
  • 4 in 10 people regularly restock their medicine cabinet, with 25-34 year olds the most savvy about keeping medications in stock
  • Additionally, 3 in 10 people (29%) also admitted to taking medication that was not prescribed to them, with 28% borrowing medication from friends if they did not have it in their own cupboards.

Chemist4U surveyed 2,000 people across the UK to find out how they manage their medicine cabinets, from the medicines they like to keep in stock to how often they dispose of unused or expired medicines. Take a look at the full results here: https://www.chemist-4-u.com/guides/pharmaceutical-advice/uk-medicine-cabinets/

Keeping a well-stocked medicine cabinet is a good way to prepare for any common illness or health problem that may surprise you. However, they’re also part of the home that can often be overlooked, with packages and half-empty bottles strewn haphazardly around the bathroom.

So how well do we manage to stock our medicine cabinets and how do we deal with old or unused medications?

Prescriptions are wasted

From September 2020 to August 2021, 1,112,384,981 prescriptions were prescribed in England. Chemist4U surveyed 2,000 respondents in England and up to 40% of those admitted to discarding unused prescription drugs. Based on these results of 2 in 5 people throwing away unused prescription drugs, an estimated 444,953,992 prescriptions could be wasted and thrown away. It is important to note that individual prescriptions may vary from one item to multiple items and some medications may be considered unused when no longer needed, treatment has ended or diagnosis has changed.

This statistic is particularly alarming given the cost of drugs for NHS, although 56% of people say they are aware of the costs associated with prescriptions. If the cost of unused prescriptions were reduced, the NHS could instead pay for more community nurses or drug treatments for serious illnesses.

With 40% of people throwing away unused medication in the trash, there is also a lack of knowledge about how best to dispose of medication. Instead, drugs should be taken to a pharmacy or sent to an online vendor for safe disposal.

How do we store our medicine cabinets?

Of the 2,000 people surveyed, 4 in 10 (41%) told us they restock their medicine cabinet regularly, making sure they have all essential supplies on their shelves. However, people aged 25-34 are the most likely to restock regularly, with almost half saying they do, followed by those aged 35-44 (48%), those aged 55 and over being the least likely to do so. restock (32%).

When it comes to medicines we like to keep in stock, paracetamol and ibuprofen turn out to be the two most popular products, with more than half (52%) of people keeping a pack of paracetamol at home all the time. , and 36% keep a 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 having no medicine in their home, with almost one in 10 men (9.85%) without medical supplies, compared to just 4.56% of women.

The last items left on the shelf

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

Therefore, it is important to regularly review your medications and discard any that are outdated. Almost half (47%) of respondents agreed it was something they did regularly, however, more than 2 in 10 (22.92%) said it was not something they did. they did regularly.

In terms of the products that stay on the shelves the longest, paracetamol tablets are the item that many people (7%) have found the oldest in their cupboards. Vicks (6.9%), ibuprofen (4%) and cough medicine (3.8%) were also in the top three. However, more specific and potentially one-time-purchase products for a short-term condition such as sting creams, eye drops and inhalers were also among the top fifteen products.

Our medicine cabinet secrets

Although many people regularly restock their medicine cabinet and make sure they are covered against any eventuality, those who do not often find their medicines through slightly unconventional methods when needed. Nearly three in ten (29%) respondents admitted to taking medication that was not prescribed to them, a potentially dangerous habit because, unless prescribed by a doctor, medication can be ineffective or cause serious reactions . Among those taking medications not prescribed to them, millennials were the most likely age group to do so, with more than four in ten (42%) having done so.

A similar number of people (28.41%) said they also borrow medicines from friends if they don’t have any in their cupboards, with people aged 16-24 most likely to do so , with 45.32% agreeing with this statement. The number of those who borrow medication declines significantly with age, however, with only 11.37% of those 55 and older likely to borrow medication.

For more information on our medicine cabinet secrets, visit Chemist4U.

James O’Loan, pharmacist and CEO of Chemist4U comments:

“It is great to see that so many people keep a stock of essential medicines at home, so that they can effectively and quickly treat any disease or ailment where self-medication can be used. However, it is alarming that the safe use of medications is not always followed, with borrowing medications and taking prescription drugs without a prescription being a fairly common occurrence. This can have serious consequences, so it is always advisable to speak to a generalistpharmacist or other healthcare professional if you have any concerns or concerns and think you need medical assistance.

“It is saddening to see the amount of medicines that are thrown away, and the cost of this to our health services and the environment if they are not properly disposed of. In some cases, especially for items like topical creams, eye drops, and inhalers, which may be used for short-term conditions, there is always a high chance that not all of the product will be used – In cases like this, it’s important to dispose of any medicine that is no longer needed in the correct way, rather than just throwing it in the trash.

The medicines that the British most like to have in their cupboards:



% of Britons who keep medicines in the cupboard








Cold and flu tablets



Antiseptic cream





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