Expired Medication: Societal, Regulatory and Ethical Aspects of a Wasted Opportunity

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jan 27;17(3):787. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17030787.


A massive volume of expired medications amasses annually around the world because of pharmaceutical overprescription, combined with overproduction. The accumulation of pharmaceutical waste imposes ecological, economic and social/ethical burdens. Managing this presumed "waste" has developed into a global challenge due to the absence of specific regulations, unreasonable behavior of the patients, and an improper understanding of the concept of "expired medications" in general. This paper summaries, first, the recent literature reporting practices related to the disposal of unused medications. In this context, 48 papers from 34 countries with a total of 33,832 participants point towards a significant lack of public awareness regarding the appropriate disposal of such biologically potent chemicals. These findings are corroborated by a local survey on the disposal practices of unused medicines among pharmacy students at Saarland University. The regulatory aspects surrounding this topic, often based on the official guidelines for the disposal of expired medications and local waste management strategies, are then discussed in light of these findings. Finally, a closer inspection of the epistemic values of expired medications and different strategies for managing expired medications have been reviewed.

Keywords: expiration date; expired medications; pharmaceutical waste; waste management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*
  • Physical Examination
  • Refuse Disposal*
  • Waste Management*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations