A survey conducted by the Osservatiorio sulla Terza Et a group which oversees the concerns of the aged on how much medicine Italians keep in their homes, shows that all the Italian families questioned had large quantities of prescription medicines, often un-opened, in their medicine cupboards. 65 per cent had up to ten packets of medicines, 26 per cent were keeping between 10 and 20 packets and 9 per cent had more than 20 packs of medicines un-used in the house. On average every family in Italy keeps 200 worth of unused medicines, or what amounts to 4 billion-worth of medicines countrywide.

The results of the survey have prompted Mario Baldassari, under secretary at the Italian ministry of health, to suggest that medicines should be dispensed by number or quantity according to the dosage prescribed, as they are in the United States and in England, rather than in whole packets, as now happens.

The pharmaceutical industry is not in favour of this proposal because it argues that the dispensing of "loose" medicines could be unhygienic and confusing for elderly patients who would have difficulty in recognising different tablets and pills. It would also mean that medicines would be distributed without lot numbers and expiry dates.

The industrialists also point out that even though medicines are dispensed by number in England the amount of money spent is 236,58 per head of population a year, higher than in Italy where the cost per head is 193,58 per year.