Many don’t realize that their medicine cabinet can contain a variety of dangerous items. What we know as a place for medication can quickly become a home for lethal substances. If they wind up in the wrong hands, dire consequences can ensue.
Often after a major surgery, patients are prescribed opiates for their pain. Pills like Vicodin and Oxycontin line the medicine cabinets of many. Since many patients will be told to “take as needed,” many will end up with extras left to sit untouched for months.
Unused medications pose a very serious risk to small children. If not stored properly, children can accidently consume the pills, leading to injury or death. If you do have pills that are still necessary, make sure they all have childproof caps, as well a childproof lock on the medicine cabinet. Make sure to never leave pills where a child can easily access them.
More than 165,000 people died in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids between 1999 and 2014, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although it may be tough to admit, some of the people that are at risk might be own our loved ones. Those suffering from drug addiction will view your medicine cabinet as a smorgasbord, looking to get their hands on opioids and other dangerous drugs. Every day, over 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids. This is a serious threat that must be addressed if you do not throw out unused medications.
Plan of Action
The easiest and safest way to get rid of old medication is to wait for the twice-a-year National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. Just last month the initiative collected 893,498 pounds of unwanted medicines—about 447 tons—at almost 5,400 sites spread through all 50 states. Unfortunately, with this only being a twice-a-year event, this still leaves many stuck with unwanted medicine.
So what other options are there? Dumping them in the trash or toilet poses numerous health and environmental risks, and many hospitals don’t have an adequate take-back program.
One website, DontRushToFlush.org is helping those with unwanted medication find a proper disposal program. A “search” feature will allow you to find out if any surrounding hospitals or police stations have a program. Make sure to look over the guidelines for each program; some other medications — such as chemotherapy drugs — also come with specific disposal instructions and locations.
Another option may be presenting itself very soon. Walgreens has announced plans to create 500 disposal sites around the country, designed to accept a variety of medications that can be disposed of safely. The bins are available during pharmacy hour, and accept prescription medications, including controlled drugs, and over-the-counter medications.
One last option for getting rid of old medication is to safely dispose of it on your own. Yes, it is possible, but only if done properly. Some medication can be thrown in the garbage, but there are a few steps that should be taken care of first according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- Remove the drugs from their containers and mix them with dirt, kitty litter or used coffee grounds to make them unappealing to kids and pets, and to dissuade anyone who might be hunting for drugs.
- Before tossing in the trash, place the mixture in a sealable plastic bag or other container to prevent it from leaking.
- Scratch out any personal information on prescription labels to protect your privacy before disposing of medicine containers.
Deciding on one of these options can have a huge positive impact on both the health and environment of others. These simple steps can lead to a bigger movement to help create a safer community.