The public in Northern Ireland disposes of an estimated 165 tonnes of unused medicines through community pharmacies, the Department of Health has said.
Most of these medicines were prescribed for patients.
The Department of Health has previously estimated that medicines wasted in Northern Ireland are valued at £18m annually.
This is compounded by a further cost of £650,000 to safely dispose of these unused medicines.
The figures have been released in a drive to reduce the amount of money that is spent unnecessarily on prescribed medicines across health and social care.
The department said Northern Ireland uses more of almost every type of medicine than in other parts of the UK and the number of prescriptions written for patients is rising each year.
It said it is working closely with health service staff including GPs and community pharmacists to focus on how medicines and appliances are prescribed.
Patients are also being urged to only order the medicines that they need and use and not to “stockpile”.
Chief pharmaceutical officer Cathy Harrison said reducing waste could increase available funding for the health service and have a positive impact on the environment.
“Medicines waste occurs for many reasons but sometimes patients receive or order medicines they don’t actually need or use, or use only occasionally,” she said.
“Reducing this level of wastage is therefore something that we can all play our part in tackling. For instance, work has shown that around 30% of the medicines returned to community pharmacies have not even been opened. This means that patients are ordering and receiving medication that they don’t need and won’t use.”
Prof Harrison added that the figures do not include all medicine waste.
“While I would stress that patients with unused medicines should return them to community pharmacies for safe disposal, this too has a cost as the returned medicines can’t be reused and need to be destroyed,” said Prof Harrison.
“These figures do not include the medicines waste that is disposed of in our normal household waste or flushed down toilets, which should never happen because it goes into the water system and has an added impact on our environment.”
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