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October 17, 2016

Protect Yourself from a Surprising Household Danger

by Amanda MacMillan

Bet you don’t think of your medicine cabinet as one of the most dangerous spots in your home -- but if it contains drugs you’re no longer using, it just might be a household hazard, says James Abberton, senior director of pharmacy services at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center. For one thing, if medications have expired, they may not do the trick next time you need them. For another, if you have kids in the home, unwanted medications pose an unnecessary risk of accidental poisoning. Finally, abuse of prescription pain meds is an all-too-common cause of tragedy – and those drugs often come from a family medicine chest.

But how do you get rid of the medications you no longer need? You can’t just flush them and forget them or toss them carelessly into the trash, Abberton says; that can introduce chemicals into waterways and landfills. “If you put them in the trash without preparing them right, there’s also a chance that pets or kids could get ahold of them, or someone outside your home could find them and abuse them,” he says. That’s why the Drug Enforcement Agency has set next Saturday, October 22, as National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. It’s a good opportunity to bring unused medications to a facility where they can be disposed of properly. Here’s how to make it easy.

1. Prep your drugs for disposal. Pills should be returned to collection sites in their bottles (some facilities won’t accept loose tablets), but make sure you remove or cover up your name and address. “Take a black marker and go over any identifying information,” says Abberton.

2. Find a take-back site near you. Use the Drug Enforcement Agency’s online tool or call 800-882-9539 to find a police department near you that can take your unneeded prescription medications off your hands this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

3. Can’t make it on Saturday? Do it later. Some police departments and other law enforcement agencies will accept unwanted medications year-round – you can find a list of participating sites at the New York State Department of Health’s website. Some pharmacies will also take meds back year-round -- call to check if yours does.

If you can’t get to a take-back site, you can put most drugs in the trash, so long as you do it right: Mix the medication with an unpalatable substance, like kitty litter or coffee grounds, and then seal the mixture in a plastic bag. A few medicines are so potent or otherwise potentially harmful that the FDA recommends that you flush unneeded doses down the toilet. One example: unused fentanyl patches, which can be fatal if used by someone other than the person who was given them by a doctor. The FDA lists drugs that should be flushed at its website.