We all have them: a medicine cabinet stuffed with half-empty bottles of pills, or bathroom drawers crammed with long-forgotten, expired cold remedies or leftover painkillers.
Although most of us don't give these out-of-date medications a second thought, they can be an attractive nuisance leading to accidental exposure or intentional misuse. Recent reports on the addictive properties of opioids are shining a bright light on safe medication use, storage and disposal.
Some medications can be very harmful if used by someone other than the person for whom they were prescribed. These include opioids such as fentanyl, methadone and oxycodone. But you should be cautious about all medications when cleaning out your cabinet.
“All medications can be harmful for various reasons. Any medications taken the wrong way or by persons other than the prescribed can lead to accidental overdose,” says Felicia Villaroman, pharmacy manager at Sharp Coronado Community Pharmacy at Sharp Coronado Hospital. “The best advice is if you are no longer using the medications, dispose of them safely.”
Villaroman recommends two ways to safely dispose of medications: drop them off at one of the many collection sites around the county offered by law enforcement departments, or participate in a government-sponsored take-back program. There are also medication disposal kiosks located at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center and Sharp Coronado Hospital.
“Drug take-back programs provide a safe, secure and convenient way for people to dispose of unwanted or expired drugs. There are not many options to dispose of drugs safely and drug take-back sites and kiosks are fast and easy,” says Villaroman.
Proper medication disposal can also help the environment. “Medications that are flushed or thrown away eventually end up in our environment via storm drains or landfills, and can affect wildlife or contaminate our drinking water,” she says.
Participating in a drug take-back program ensures the safety of your family and of the environment. However, Villaroman knows that because most patients focus on how to take their medications, proper storage and disposal doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. That’s why she is always happy to answer questions.
“I encourage my patients to ask me as many questions that they have about not only how to take the medicines prescribed by their doctors, but also what to do when they have finished their treatment,” she says.