FAQ Frequently Asked Questions
1. What are “Unwanted Medicines”?
These are medicines either purchased by you or your family and no longer required, or prescribed by a doctor for a previous condition no longer present. “Out of date” medicines should also be returned for disposal. (Consumers should always check the Expiry Date on medicines). It is dangerous to assume that previously used medicines are suitable for new ailments. You should always consult a pharmacist or doctor before taking medicines prescribed for another condition. It is preferable to discard (return) medicines no longer of immediate use. “Out of date” medicines are potentially dangerous. Chemical changes to some medicines after their use-by date can result in toxic products. Out of date medicines should be returned for disposal.
2. Can “sharps” (needles and syringes) be included in the RUM collections?
No. There is an Occupational Health and Safety risk that a needle-stick injury could occur to a handler from a needle penetrating the side, or lid, of a RUM container. For this reason we cannot include sharps in the collection process.
3. Why is collection of unwanted medicines necessary?
Evidence over many years confirms that medicines “stored” in the home can be the source of poisonings of children, and the source of confusion with aged patients. Accident and Emergency departments of major hospitals report alarming rates of poisonings of children due to household poisons (one in four admissions). Aged patients are often confused by the variety of medicines previously prescribed and then superseded by subsequent medicines. Medicines, and chemicals in general, can contaminate the environment when discarded via landfill sites and sewerage facilities. The collection and disposal of unwanted medicines is consistent with the “Quality use of Medicines” philosophy included in Australia’s National Medicinal Drug Policy.
4. Why should “returned” medicines not be used for overseas aid?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has strongly recommended that the recycling of returned medicines be ceased, for the following reasons:
- The “integrity” of previously distributed medicines cannot be assured. Strict controls are in place to regulate the manufacture and storage of medicines in the manufacturer, wholesaler and pharmacy environments. Frequent reports of adulterated medicines have reached the media. We should not apply double standards – if we are not to use the medicines, neither should another country.
- The recipient country often has no knowledge of medicines available in the “sending” country. Brand names differ, and most often the medicines sent are of no use in the circumstances existing in the receiving country.
- Black Market operations in third world countries are often very active. The interception of drug deliveries is common.
- The Australian Pharmacy Board now regulates against the recycling (re-using) of any returned medicine.
The preferred WHO protocol for medicinal aid is:
- A medical person (doctor, pharmacist or nurse) with authority in the need country prepares a list of specific medicinal requirements.
- The list includes delivery address requirements, and names of responsible recipients for the medicines.
- The list is provided to an official Aid organization in Australia who contact manufacturers and wholesalers direct. The contact seeks donations of required medicines from manufacturers, or at least a heavily discount priced contribution. (Manufacturers in Australia are very generous in this regard).
- The required medicines are collected, collated, and delivered to the country in need, and to the specific authority requesting the medicines.
NOTE: A full description of the WHO Guidelines can be accessed at:
5. What is “RUM”?
RUM is a shortened description for Return Unwanted Medicines, a not for profit Company. The RUM Project has been formed to facilitate the collection and disposal of unwanted medicines from the community. The project operates nationally with the cooperation of the pharmaceutical industry bodies in Australia.
6. Who pays for the collection?
The Commonwealth Government Department of Health and Ageing has provided funding until 30 June 2013. Collection is via community pharmacies at no charge, pharmacy wholesalers charge a low rate for their part in the process.
7. What is the disposal process??
Returned medicines are disposed of by high temperature incineration. The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has approved this process. Disposal of unwanted medicines is often done by flushing down sinks and toilets, or via household rubbish disposal into landfill. This disposal is potentially damaging to the environment, and disposal to landfill sites can expose medicines to both misuse and abuse by consumers. Fatalities have occurred following access to medicines discarded via household refuse.
8. Why is community pharmacy the collection point?
Community pharmacists are the “medication managers” in the community. Access to a local pharmacy is convenient, and the process requires no additional collection costs.
9. Where are the returned medicines incinerated?
In EPA approved incinerators.
10. What Can I do?
Take all unwanted medicines to your local pharmacy for disposal. Encourage family, friends and neighbours to return unwanted medicines to their local pharmacy.