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New guidelines set for disposing medications

By Staff | Jan 24, 2012

As the New Year unfolds and healthy resolutions are made, the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) is encouraging Americans to clean out their medicine cabinets. Pharmacists recommend patients clean out their medicine cabinets once a year to dispose of all the unused and expired medications that have accumulated over the past year. They advise to make it a yearly tradition to help keep everyone safe and healthy.

Unused medications have the potential to be abused and misused and expired medications can lose their potency, thus reducing or providing no value to the condition being treated.

Prescription drugs are classified as controlled substances and should be handled with care according to pharmacist, Gary Peck at Ben Franklin in Clarkstown. There are recommended guidelines to dispose of medications so that they will not do harm to anyone else or the environment. “Don’t leave behind dangerous items where people can get hurt, especially used needles or sharp objects,” said Peck.

Generally, most people try to dispose of old or unused medications by flushing them down the toilet, or throwing them in the trash while in their container. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) created some guidelines for consumers designed to keep people, animals, and the environment safe.

“Do not flush them in the toilet and don’t throw them out inside the prescription bottle. You can crush them up first and then put them in the garbage,” Peck added.

There are federal and state regulations. According to Peck a good resource to follow for both is the University of Pittsburgh’s Medical Center (UPMC), a large resource for medicines, where they recommend the following guidelines for disposing medications:

First you will have to “prepare” the medicine so that it will be in a safer form. These instructions apply to both pills and liquids.

Remove the medicine from its original bottle. Mix the drugs with something that would make them unappealing to people or pets who may go through the trash. You can use kitty litter or used coffee grounds.

Next, place the medicine in a plastic bag with a seal or in a container with a lid. The goal is to make sure that the medicine does not spill out of this packaging. You can also use tape to further secure the bag or container.

Do not forget about the original bottle that the medicine came in. Your privacy is important. Remove the label or use a black marker to hide your name and any other information. Before placing the bottle in the trash, check to see if it has a recycling code on the bottom. If it does and your city or town’s recycling program accepts this type of plastic, place the bottle in your recycling bin.

“Over the course of a year, we can accumulate many medications to treat colds, headaches and infections, as well as more serious conditions,” stated Thomas Menighan, CEO and Executive Vice President, APhA. “These medications play an important role in helping patients obtain better health and wellness, but if we do not store and dispose of them properly, they can become a hazard. When they fall into the wrong hands, these medications have the potential to be abused, and if improperly disposed of, they can harm wildlife, pets and other people.”

Prescription drug abuse is the Nation’s fastest-growing drug problem. While there has been a marked decrease in the use of some illegal drugs like cocaine, data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), show that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over, who used drugs for the first time in 2009, began by using a prescription drugs non-medically.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports in the US, an average of 2,000 teenagers use prescription medication for the first time without a physician’s guidance. The same NSDUH survey found that over 70% of people who abused prescription pain relievers got them from friends or relatives.

In spring, on April 28th, the Pennsylvania State Police will be offering a collection service for any unused or expired medications.

Be sure to check the expiration dates. “Prescriptions should not be used beyond the expiration date. They should always be marked,” added Peck. “If you are unsure or have questions, you can call us here at Ben Franklin Pharmacy, and we can inform you on what to do.”

Tips for Storing and Cleaning Out Your Medicine Cabinet or Other Medication Storage Areas:

Medications should be stored in a secured area up, away and out of site of children and teenagers – that has low humidity, a stable temperature and adequate lighting.

Check the date on everything in your medicine cabinet and dispose of anything that has passed the expiration date.

Dispose of anything you have not used in the past 12 months or that you no longer need. Do not share medications with others.

Dispose of medicines that are no longer in their original container, have changed color or odor, or that can no longer be identified.

Do not flush unused or expired medications and do not pour them down a sink or drain. They should be disposed of properly in the household trash or through your community’s medication disposal program, when available.

Source: American Pharmacists Association