Wasted medicines cost £18m annually
The over-prescription of medicines in Northern Ireland leads to around £18m of waste every year, new figures have revealed.
Around 72 tonnes of the 39 million prescriptions issued are returned to community pharmacies as waste, according to the NI Audit Office (NIAO) report on Primary Care Prescribing.
The medicines - with an estimated value of £6.46m - cost the Health Service a further £400,000 to dispose of as they cannot be reused.
The Health and Social Care Board said it had been working with GPs and pharmacists to tackle the problem.
A long-term project in Belfast has helped to reduce the number of prescribed benzodiazepines (tranquilisers) by over 40% in a 10-year period.
In the last year, over 27,000 patients in Northern Ireland had medication reviewed in community pharmacies and received advice on how to use their medicine more effectively and reduce waste.
Medication-related issues were identified in 60% of reviews and 11% of patients were referred to their GP or other healthcare professional.
David McCrea, pharmacist at Dundela Pharmacy in Belfast, said: "For patient safety reasons, unused medicines which are returned to pharmacies have to be destroyed and cannot be reused.
"We can help patients improve their understanding of their medicines, explain how they work and discuss any concerns they may have such as side-effects."
Chairman of the Health and Social Care Board Dr Ian Clements said: "Over-ordering and over-prescribing of medicines leads to an estimated £18m of wasted medicines each year.
"If we - patients, members of the public and professionals - all worked together and tried to reduce 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."
The rise in the number of drugs like diazepam being sold on the streets of Northern Ireland has led to problems, as some drugs that have been legitimately prescribed are misused and abused.
Brenda Bradley from the Health and Social Care Board said: "This is not only illegal, it is exceptionally dangerous."