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Removal of dangerous medicines from the home protects health and environment.

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Media Release



Parliamentary Secretary

to the Minister for Health and Family Services

Member for Adelaide

Budget 1998-99


Tuesday, 12th May 1998






A Federal Government Budget initiative to remove an estimated 200 tonnes of potentially dangerous medicines from Australian homes is set to reduce the incidence of poisoning, particularly amongst young children. These medicines will also be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way so that the nation’s landfill and waterways are not contaminated.


Other medicine related Budget initiatives include addressing the inappropriate practice of Australian taxpayer subsidised medicines being sent overseas, and extending access to medication reviews to all aged care residents and some patients in their own homes.


According to the Accident Prevention Foundation of Australia, on an average day, 7 children under 5 years of age are admitted to hospital because they have taken medicines not prescribed for them. Eighteen children are admitted to hospital emergency centres, and there are 180 calls to poison information centres daily. In all, about 50 children are hospitalised every week after ingesting their parents’ or grandparents’ medicines.


In a concerted effort to combat this health hazard the Government will provide $8.6 million over the next 3 years for a national program to dispose of unwanted and out-of-date medicines as part of its 1998 Budget priorities. It is believed to be the first national program of its type in the world.


The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Family Services, Trish Worth, says that unwanted or out of date medicines frequently accumulate in the home without any thought about the consequences if they get into the wrong hands.


“We have to be so careful where children are concerned,” says Ms. Worth. “The program seeks to better protect children and others who could inadvertently ingest unwanted or out-of-date medicines and, at the same time, the Government is helping the environment.”


“Disposal rates from two pilot projects (South Australia and New South Wales) indicate that more than 200 tonnes of medicines a year are inappropriately disposed of in landfill and through sewerage systems.”


“Sometimes unwanted medicines are thrown out in general household rubbish, flushed down the toilet or washed down the sink. This type of disposal can cause serious consequences for our environment,” Ms. Worth says.


“When this national program begins, people will be able to take their unwanted medicines to a participating pharmacy which will act as a collection point for disposal.”


“This program demonstrates our commitment to preventing as well as treating illnesses and puts Australia at the top of the international health care ladder,” says Ms. Worth.


The Government’s emphasis on quality use of medicines is also evident in its decision to extend access to medication reviews.


“This scheme will now be extended for two extra groups of people who could greatly benefit from such reviews. Those people in residential care who are not in a nursing home will now have access to the scheme for the first time, thus providing continuity across nursing homes and hostels.”


“Elderly people are high users of medicines and those on multiple medicines, and with chronic diseases, are at particularly high risk of taking unnecessary medication or suffering adverse effects from their medicines,”

Ms. Worth says.


“Pilot studies based on reviews in nursing homes have shown the benefits of similar reviews for residents in other institutions and for people in their homes who have been identified as being at high risk after hospital discharge or by their doctor."


“In recognition of the fact that there are patien ts in their own homes who have similar pharmaceutical care needs to people in residential care, some people in the community will also be able to have their medicines reviewed. In these cases, doctors will be able to identify patients taking multiple medicines who are at risk of adverse effects, and arrange for reviews to be conducted by accredited pharmacists.”


Complementing the Government’s pharmaceutical strategy, the Health Insurance Commission (HIC) will target an area of misuse whereby medicines subsidised by Australian taxpayers are being inappropriately sent overseas by friends and relatives without their doctors’ knowledge.


“The money spent on these medicines would be much better spent on maintaining access to essential medicines for the Australians who help fund the expensive Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme,” Ms. Worth says.


The Scheme provides Australians with timely, reliable and affordable access to necessary medicines.


“The HIC, which administers the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, will examine a range of measures to address this problem including liaising with the Australian Customs Service and developing targeted education and awareness campaigns."


Media contact: Lisa Brett on 02 6277 4927 or 0411 261 336