One-third of unused medicines in Ireland are either ‘flushed’ or thrown in bins, according to new research from the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU). This has led the IPU to call for the introduction of a national medicines recycling programme, known as a DUMP (Dispose of Unused Medicines Properly) scheme across the country to encourage people to dispose of their unused or out-of-date medicines safely.

Key findings of the research conducted by Behaviour and Attitudes on behalf of the IPU were:

27 per cent of unused medicines were discarded in bins.

As much as 6 per cent are flushed down sinks or toilets.

Two out of five people were completely unaware of the dangers of incorrect disposal.

Over-65s are four times more likely to return medicines to their community pharmacy.

Commenting on the findings, community pharmacist and IPU Vice-President Mr Eoghan Hanly said: “There are real and significant risks to health and the environment from improperly disposing of medicines. 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.

“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 concluded with a particular warning for younger people. “It is ironic that our young people, who are usually the most environmentally conscious, are far less likely to dispose of medicines correctly,” he said. “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.”