Pharmacy group warns against taking out-of-date medicines

Almost half of Irish adults risk their health by taking out of date medicines, according to a recent survey.

The survey, carried out for DocMorris pharmacy chain, also found that one in six of the 1,000 people asked said they would take medication even if it was out of date.

The research was carried out in conjunction with DocMorris’s nationwide Medicine Safety campaign, which launched this week, to raise awareness about the dangers of out of date medicine, the importance of adherence to medication regimes, and the safe disposal of medication.

Researchers found that one in eight people were not able to recall when they last cleaned out their medicine cabinet. Given that more than 70 per cent of those surveyed have prescription medicine at home and 79 per cent have over the counter medicine, DocMorris wants to make the general public aware that these medicines have expiry dates, which should be checked.

More than one fifth (21 per cent ) of those surveyed also stated that they would take medicine not prescribed for them, and 45 per cent have taken leftover medication from a previous prescribed course – this is a real concern as it highlights that the general public is not always aware that out of date medication can cause harm, and that any medicine can cause ill effects if it is taken by someone for whom it was not prescribed and dispensed for.

“For families with young children, it is not uncommon to have a high volume of prescription drugs or antibiotics in the medicine cabinet, as children are often fighting infections and viruses,” said Joanne Kissane, superintendent pharmacist at DocMorris. “It is important that parents dispose of these medicines appropriately to ensure there are no unused medicines in the home and no mix-ups with newer or recently prescribed medications. From figures issued by the National Poisons Information Centre, we know that they receive more than 4,000 calls annually about children who have been accidentally poisoned, the majority of children affected being under the age of five. Children are naturally curious and could inhale or swallow poisonous substances without realising the danger, so we urge parents to make sure that medicine safety is top of their list.

“Common over-the-counter medications for coughs, colds, etc, should also be checked for expiry dates to ensure the medication is still safe to take, because at the very least, these medicines may not be as effective as when originally purchased,” she added. “Eye drops and eye ointments should be disposed of 28 days after opening as they contain a preservative that keeps them stable only for this amount of time. To help patients with long term conditions, or those who have to take medication regularly, we offer a range of solutions through our pharmacy network to ensure they are taking their medication correctly. We advise our customers to pop into their local DocMorris and talk to the pharmacy team about the best solution for them.”

Disposing of old medicines safely is also an issue. More than half of those surveyed do not dispose of their out of date medicines correctly – 55 per cent of adults put out of date medicine in a domestic or household bin, which impacts on the pollution in the waterways and also causes damage to birds and wildlife.

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