193 tons of prescription medication are thrown away in Taiwan per year

High volume discarded, unused prescription meds shows rampant misuse of National Health Insurance funds

Waste not, want not. (Image from Unsplash)

Waste not, want not. (Image from Unsplash)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Recently a pharmacist found NT$3.5 million (US$117,000) of asthma inhalers and pills in the pharmacy's recycling box, with most of the medication unopened and expired, a startling indication of the degree to which Taiwan's National Health Insurance (NHI) is taken for granted.

According to data from the Health and Welfare Department of the Ministry of National Health Insurance, every year the NHI spends around NT$160 billion on prescription medicine, however around 193 metric tons of this medicine is thrown away. That's enough pills to line the perimeter of Taiwan eight times over, according to CNA.

A spokesperson for the Taiwan Pharmacist Association, Shen Tsai-ying (沈采穎), said that around six years ago he heard that over 100 unopened inhalers are recycled at pharmacies per year. The NHI pays around NT$1,000 for each one, totaling to over NT$100,000 wasted.

The NHI has tried several strategies to eliminate such wastefulness, and some have proved effective, though not all.

In 2015 for instance, the NHI implemented stricter evaluations on six kinds of medicine to determine if they should be covered by the NHI, including medicine for blood pressure, body lipids, blood sugar, anti-psychosis, sleeping, and anti-anxiety. After these reviews, the amount of overlapping medication administered dropped by 50%, saving the NHI NT$300,000. Last year medication for blood clots, gout, and heart disease were added to this review.