One-third of unused medicines in Ireland are either thrown in bins, flushed down toilets or poured down sinks, new research from the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has found.
According to the IPU, there are "real and significant risks to health and the environment" if medicines are disposed of incorrectly.
"Whether this is in bins or by flushing down sinks or toilets, you are risking contaminating water systems and damaging biodiversity. Ultimately, it risks impacting crops, animals and potentially increasing antibiotic resistance among humans. The more widespread the practice the bigger the potential risks," explained IPU vice-president, Eoghan Hanly.
According to the IPU's research, 27% of unused medicines were discarded in bins, while up to 6% were flushed down toilets or poured down sinks.
Furthermore, around 40% of people were completely unaware of the dangers of incorrect disposal.
The IPU is calling for the introduction of a national medicines recycling programme. Known as the DUMP (Dispose of Unused Medicines Properly) scheme, it encourages people to dispose of their unused or out-of-date medicines safely.
"These findings are alarming and should be a significant concern to the authorities in this country. To combat this very real threat, we are calling on the HSE to urgently implement a nationwide DUMP scheme through local pharmacies to promote safe and appropriate disposal of medicines and allow for easy recycling of inhalers and other medicine devices.
"Given the low levels of awareness of the environmental risks, a DUMP scheme should include public awareness campaigns to boost compliance," Mr Hanly said.
The IPU research found that people over the age of 65 were four times more likely to return medicines to their community pharmacy. Mr Hanly said that it is ironic that younger people, who are usually more environmentally conscious, "are far less likely to dispose of medicines correctly".
"If you respect the environment this is one thing you must do. In addition, around half of those under 35 say they keep or hoard unused medicines. However, this age group are the most likely to have young children at home, which is an added concern. Everyone should take personal responsibility for correctly disposing of unused medicines," Mr Hanly added.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.