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National scheme for disposing of unused medicines ‘urgently required’

By Irish Pharmacist - 04th Jul 2024

disposing of unused medicines

Ireland needs to take action to reduce the amount of medicines that are being inappropriately disposed of, according to the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU). The IPU has called for a nationwide Disposal of Unused Medicines Properly (DUMP) scheme to be established and promoted, to limit what it describes as serious health and environmental risks.

Ireland is currently out of line with many developed health systems, with no national programme to support the safe disposal of unused medicines.

IPU President, Tom Murray, explained the need for a national DUMP scheme, “There are significant environmental and health risks from improperly disposing of medicines. This includes impacts on crops, biodiversity and contaminating our water system. One of the most pressing health challenges of our time is antimicrobial resistance and every antibiotic incorrectly disposed of adds to this problem. Worryingly, research conducted by Behaviour and Attitudes on behalf of the IPU in 2020 showed that a third of all unused medicines are incorrectly disposed of, with 6 per cent dangerously flushed down sinks or toilets. The same research highlighted that over one-third of medicines in Ireland are incorrectly discarded. We have no reason to believe that this situation has changed in the interim.”

He continued: “These risks are well understood globally and having a system of collection for expired medicines has been required under EU law since 2004. The Environmental Protection Agency too has set out the establishment of a nationwide system as a key recommendation in its National Hazardous Waste Management Plan, with implementation due last year.”

By encouraging patients to return their unused medicines to their local community pharmacy, thus restricting access to unused medicines, the introduction of a DUMP Scheme can also reduce the risk of suicide, deliberate self-harm and accidental poisoning in children and help prevent environmental pollution, says the Union.

“For the pharmacies themselves, disposal services are very expensive to operate. It has reached the stage where it is not viable for pharmacies to accept unused medicines from the public without the State covering the cost of disposing of these medicines. A national scheme, therefore, is the most viable option and would also assist in raising awareness and improving uptake.”

The IPU is calling for the introduction of a DUMP scheme that includes a national promotional campaign and covers the costs of disposing medicines. “Our first challenge is to make sure everyone knows the risks. Then we need it to be easy to do the right thing. There are many successful models for the HSE to replicate, including an initiative that has run very successfully in Cork and Kerry, which should immediately be rolled-out to the rest of the country.”

Mr Murray concluded by explaining the role he feels pharmacies should play. “Pharmacies are the logical centre point for this national programme. There are over 1,800 nationwide and we already have a relationship with patients when it comes to managing their medications. With the correct funding mechanism in place pharmacies can implement a DUMP scheme without delay.”

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