The Antibiotic Amnesty is underway in Birmingham and Solihull, with local healthcare leaders encouraging everyone throughout the region to return their old or unused antibiotics to their nearest pharmacy. Over 300 local pharmacies in the Midlands are supporting the month-long amnesty, which is taking place throughout November to promote the safe disposal of antibiotics, while raising awareness of how the misuse of antibiotics has contributed to medications becoming less effective against harmful bacteria.
Dr Clara Day, Chief Medical Officer at NHS Birmingham and Solihull, said: “As we approach winter, with colds, sore throats and flu on the rise, if someone finds leftover antibiotics in their bathroom cabinet and gives that medication to a poorly friend, they might think that’s a kind, helpful gesture. Unfortunately, the reality is, saving antibiotics for later or sharing them with others is dangerous and can have huge consequences.
“You should only take antibiotics when advised by a health professional, and if you take antibiotics when you do not need them, it will put you at more risk in the future. The misuse of antibiotics could leave someone suffering harmful side effects, as well as making that medication less effective at treating bacteria in the future.
“It’s important for all of us, health professionals and public alike, to support the Antibiotic Amnesty, so we can help keep antibiotics working.” Antibiotics are a vital tool for modern medicine and are used to treat infections such as pneumonia, meningitis and tuberculosis, as well as being used to avoid infections during chemotherapy, caesarean sections and other surgeries.
The overuse of antibiotics has led to a rise of antibiotic resistance, where antibiotics are becoming less effective because the more antibiotics are used, the less effective they become against their target organisms, such as bacteria, and the less they work at making us better when we need them. In November 2021, UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) Chief Medical Adviser Dr Susan Hopkins described antibiotic resistance, otherwise known as antimicrobial resistance, as a "hidden pandemic" and said it was important "we do not come out of COVID-19 and enter into another crisis".
The Antibiotic Amnesty, led locally by NHS Birmingham and Solihull and NHS Black Country Integrated Care Board, is being supported by GPs, dental practices and other health services. During last year’s Antibiotic Amnesty, which took place over two weeks, over 500 full or part packs of antibiotics were returned to pharmacies across the Midlands for safe disposal.
Dr Conor Jamieson, Midlands Regional Antimicrobial Stewardship Lead at NHS England, said: “Last year’s amnesty was a real success story for the Midlands, but the very real risk the misuse of antibiotics brings means that we want, and need, to do more. We hope that this year we can see even greater numbers, marking a change in behaviour which will see appropriate disposal taking place throughout the year.
“Antibiotics that are thrown away in household rubbish, poured down the sink or flushed down the toilet are also dangerous. These medicines can get into our rivers and seas and lead to more antibiotic resistance in the environment, which could in turn harm people.”
Antibiotics are important medicines for treating some infections, but the more they are used the more bacteria are able to find ways to survive the antibiotic. This is known as antibiotic resistance and poses a threat to our health, both locally and globally. A global review of antimicrobial resistance and its future impact estimated that there would be 10 million global deaths related to antimicrobial resistance annually from the year 2050 if we do nothing to preserve our current effective antibiotics or do not develop new ones.
Pharmacies will always accept unwanted medicines from people or households for safe disposal. Medicines returned to a pharmacy are safely stored, collected by a licensed waste contractor and taken for safe disposal by incineration.