Londonderry community health co-ordinator, Marie McLaughlin, says drugs found on the streets in some parts of the city have been prescription medications which have been sold or shared with others.
Ms McLaughlin, from the Neighbourhood Health Improvement Project (North West), made the comment at the launch of a Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) campaign to encourage people to spring clean their medicine cabinets.
People are urged to take their unwanted medicines to their community pharmacist who will ensure that they are destroyed properly and that they can never be reused.
Community organisations involved in this Wipe Out Medicine Waste NI initiative are Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum, Caw/Nelson Drive Action Group, the Neighbourhood Health Improvement Projects North and West and the Waterside Neighbourhood Partnership.
“Returning unused medication to a community pharmacy where it can be disposed of safely is a very simple and effective way of helping to keep our communities safe and healthy,” said Ms McLaughlin.
“Some of the drugs found on the streets are prescription medications which have been sold or shared with others.
“Taking prescription drugs which have not been prescribed for you without advice from a health professional can lead to dangerous side effects and fatal consequences,” she added.
Over-ordering and over-prescribing of medicines leads to an estimated £18m of wasted medicines each year.
Every year, 39 million prescription items are issued in Northern Ireland. About 72 tonnes of these medicines, with an estimated value of £6.46m, are returned to community pharmacies as waste.
Unwanted medicines cost the Health Service a further £400,000 to dispose of. By reducing the amount of wasted medicines, the money saved could be used to fund other vital health services such as more doctors and nurses, or new treatments, for the benefit of all.
Joe Brogan, Pharmacist and Assistant Director of Integrated Care at the Health and Social Care Board, said: “Medicines can gather in the home for many reasons. These can be medicines that you no longer need, your medication may have been changed or the product may have passed its expiry date.
“Whatever the reason, we ask people to take this opportunity to dispose of prescription or over the counter medications safely.”
The public are encouraged to help reduce waste by checking their supply before re-ordering and to let their doctor or pharmacist know if they think they are getting too much. Also, people are reminded that medicines which have not been opened cannot be recycled and used by anyone else once they leave the pharmacy so only order what you need.