Knowing what is in medicine cabinets can save lives

  • Published
  • By Yvonne Lewis-Odom
  • Drug Demand Reduction Program manager
What's in your medicine cabinet? Who has access to it? Would you know if medications are missing? 

Believe it or not, these questions and the answers to them could make a difference in family safety. Why? While illicit drug use is declining, over-the-counter medication abuse is on the rise. 

Sometimes, when people think of drug addicts or pushers, they tend to imagine grungy people on street corners, but that picture has changed over the years. Instead, imagine drug pushers and users in every facet of life: rich and poor, young and old, teens partying or cramming for exams, stressed executives, parents juggling the challenges of work and family, seniors coping with illness and loss, the mentally ill searching for relief, movie stars, rock musicians and athletes. 

Getting high is cheaper and much more accessible now by anyone at any age, anywhere. This becomes more evident in the number of individuals, especially teens, who admit to addiction, experimentation or knowing someone who has problems with medication abuse. 

In the past, college students used caffeine to pull an all-nighter; now, the aid comes from hyperactivity medication. There are elementary school children who are selling their prescription hyperactivity medications for $10 or more. Over the counter cough syrup that parents couldn't get their children to take when they were sick is now an easily accessible high. Medication that people purchased right off the shelf, must now be signed for to control medication abuse. Pain medication that medical providers prescribe for pain is worth much more on the street now than it was a year ago. 

It's time for people to do a "shake-down" of the medication they have in their households. Many people are guilty of harboring medications that are expired or no longer being used. The problem is what to do with them. Some would be inclined to flush them down the toilet. Wrong answer. 

So what is the solution? 

First, take an annual inventory of the medication in cabinets and determine what is expired and what is no longer needed. Choose a date like Daylight Saving Time or before a holiday to clean out medicine cabinets. 

Dispose of expired and unused medications (prescription and OTC) according to the following federal guidelines: 

- Take unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs out of their original containers and throw them in the trash. 

- Mix prescription drugs with undesirable substances such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and put them in impermeable, non-descript containers such as empty cans or sealable bags ensure they are not diverted. 

- Flush prescription drugs down the toilet, only if the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs doing so. 

- Take advantage of community pharmaceutical take-back programs or community solid-waste programs allowing people to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. 

For more information about drug abuse prevention, call 213-5056.