Antibiotics warning after survey finds 'third took expired medicine'

One in three people admitted using expired medicines, according to a Healthcare Improvement Scotland survey.

A health care expert has warned of the dangers of taking old medicine amid a rise in antibiotic resistant infections.

The warning comes after a survey from Healthcare Improvement Scotland found that one in three people said they had taken expired medicines.

The survey of 2,000 people in 2022, also found a third of those who had taken old medication had taken prescriptions not meant for them.

Professor Andrew Seaton, chair of the conducting investigators Scottish Antimicrobial Prescribing Group, has said that the overuse of antibiotics presents a “serious threat” to the future of healthcare.

Professor Andrew Seaton, chair of the conducting investigators Scottish Antimicrobial Prescribing Group

He said: “We know that many people have antibiotics at home which they or another family member have been previously prescribed and there can be a temptation, when feeling unwell, to use them.

“However, it’s quite likely, at times when chest and throat infections are common, that infection will be caused by one of the many circulating viruses rather than by an infection that requires an antibiotic.

“Antibiotics will not speed up recovery from a viral illness and they may cause unwanted effects including stomach upset. Critically, future infections may be more difficult to treat because overuse of antibiotics drives the development of antibiotic resistance.”

The most common reason for an antibiotic prescription is for a respiratory tract illness – such as infections of the throat, ear or chest.

Prof Seaton, who also works as an infectious diseases consultant in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, added: “For the majority of people who are feeling unwell with a cough, cold or sore throat, symptoms will settle with simple measures including rest, increasing fluid intake and careful use of pain killers such as paracetamol.

“For people with known serious underlying health conditions or for those where symptoms are not settling within a few days or are worsening it is advisable to take advice from NHS 24, their pharmacist or GP.”

The investigation found that more than one million global deaths are estimated to occur annually as a direct result of antibiotic resistant infections due to common, previously treatable illnesses such as pneumonia.

In a bid to encourage people to safely dispose of unused antibiotics, pharmacies throughout Scotland are now offering an ‘amnesty’ – where people can bring medicines to be safely disposed of.

Prof Seaton said: “Antibiotics don’t only act on germs inside of us, but also act on the many germs living in soil and water and we know that antibiotic resistance in the environment has important consequences for plant, animal and human health.

“It’s essential therefore that we avoid environmental contamination by not disposing of antibiotics in household waste for landfill or flush them down the toilet.

“Safe disposal of unused antibiotics will reduce the environmental impact and help protect our planet.”

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