Over 33,000 prescription tablets have been recovered in the last year from special drug disposal bins, UTV can reveal.
They have been hailed a major success in the battle against prescription drug abuse.
The huge haul of prescription medication recovered by the PSNI in west Belfast was not through a drugs bust, but safely disposed by members of the public in special drug bins.
The PSNI has hailed the scheme a success.
PSNI Inspector Clare McClelland said: “Ultimately it’s such a danger if these items fall into the wrong hands.
“Anybody who is in possession of unwanted drugs, be that prescription medication or illegal drugs can dispose of them anonymously, these bins are then emptied by ourselves and subsequently the items will be destroyed.”
First set up eight years ago, the bins ensure unwanted prescription tablets don't fall into the wrong hands.
There are now 25 of them in various locations across Northern Ireland.
Most are in Belfast in places like shopping centres and community hubs, locations with a high footfall to allow for a degree of anonymity.
In terms of how beneficial they have been, the figures speak for themselves.
The latest recovery brings the total number of tablets safely disposed of to over 150,000 since the bins were set up in 2010.
Prescription drug abuse in Northern Ireland is said to be at an epidemic level.
Some of the strongest medication available has been recovered in these bins.
“Pregabalin, tramadol, diazepam, naproxen, a lot anti-depressants or painkillers is what we would be concerned about, those are the substances that would be reflected by the coroner in drug-related deaths,” Kelly Gilliland from the Public Health Agency said.
“Buying from a dealer or off the internet, you don’t know what you’re buying, they can tell you it's one thing but the makeup of the drug can change each time, it could be a certain dosage once and change the next time, unless it’s prescribed by your doctor, that’s the only way it's safe to take these substances.”
Taking drugs off the street is the main priority but this scheme also allows a picture to be built about these drugs, what type of medication is in demand and crucially where it is coming from.
Gerry McConville from the Falls Community Council commented: “A misuse of prescription-type drugs that were being bought on the web, and that’s been a particular problem where people can buy what they believe are prescription drugs, but they are unknown, they don’t know what they are buying, they haven't got a trademark, they haven't been prescribed by a GP and therefore can prove very very dangerous.”
It is not clear how many lives these bins have saved but the figures show they are playing vital part in the battle against prescription drug abuse.