Many of us are touched in one way or another by the opioid crisis that has become a national epidemic, one with a particularly strong grip in New England. This has prompted many questions from our patients about the best way to protect their children from becoming addicted. A great place to start is by storing medications at home properly, and safely discarding those that have expired or are no longer needed.
Out with the old - and unneeded
There is no reason to keep unused or expired medications. Do a sweep of the medicine cabinets every six months to check for medications that are no longer needed or have expired.
There are a few ways to dispose of unused or expired medications. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends mixing medications with a substance such as kitty litter or coffee grounds, placing the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag, and throwing away the container in the household trash.
Many towns have also implemented drug take-back programs that will handle disposing unwanted drugs for you. Call the local police or fire department (not the emergency line) to inquire about this type of program.
Be sure to remove or scratch out any personal information on the prescription label of empty pill bottles to make them unreadable.
Do not flush medicines down the toilet. Doing so can cause active ingredients to end up back in our drinking water -- they are not necessarily filtered through the sewage process -- and can be harmful when ingested.
Where to store the medications we need
It is crucial to properly and safely store medications, especially if there are children in the home. Store prescription medications in a high and/or locked cabinet or drawer so they are not accessible to children. If you do not have a safe place to store medication away from curious children, lock boxes are available for purchase at any retail pharmacy.
It is also important that a prescription storage space be located in a dry, cool place, in a room where the temperature is not constantly fluctuating. Humidity, extreme heat, and extreme cold can affect the way medications work. For this reason, the bathroom is generally the worst room in a home to store medications. Attics and basements are also not good storage spaces because the temperature is usually not regulated like the living area of a home.
Never store any medications in your car where they can be exposed to extreme temperatures -- especially EpiPens, inhalers, liquids, or any source of emergency medications.
You may be asking yourself, "Well, where can I store my medications?" A kitchen cabinet is acceptable, as long as that cabinet is located away from the oven, microwave, or windows. Many homes have a cabinet located above the refrigerator. This would be an ideal place to store medications, not only because it is located away from heat sources, but also because it is out of a child's reach. A bedroom cabinet or nightstand is also a good place to keep medications, again, as long as they are locked or not accessible to children.
If a child does gain access and ingests your medication, it is imperative to call Poison Control right away at 1-800-222-1222. Do not call a doctor or pharmacist, as they will direct you to call Poison Control. Even if you are unsure what your child might have ingested, or if you found him or her sucking on a medication and aren't sure if they ingested any, it is still important to act fast and call Poison Control to get the recommended course of action.
Never use prescription medications as toys by shaking a prescription bottle to sound like a rattle, for example, or treat them as candy in front of your children. This can send the wrong message to children by making light of the serious consequences that can result when a child takes medication that has not been prescribed for them.
It is also important to be cautious with medications around pets. For example, parrots and other types of birds often get jealous when they see you taking medications or administering medications to family members and will, therefore, steal these medications, many of which are fatal when ingested by an animal. If your pet ingests a medication they shouldn't have, contact Animal Poison Control immediately at 1-888-426-4435.
Medications are vital to our lives and help us in ways earlier generations might have never imagined. Because they can be harmful if not used properly, it is incumbent upon us to safeguard them. This lesson has been placed into even sharper focus by the opioid crisis, as our nation looks for new ways to keep drugs out of the hands of our children.
Raied (Ray) Dinno, R.Ph and Saad Dinno, R.Ph., FACA, FIACP, are co-owners of Acton Pharmacy, West Concord Pharmacy, and Keyes Drug in Newton.