Living Well: What you should know about the disposal of unused medicines
The majority of Americans who abused prescription drugs in 2018 obtained those drugs from family and friends — often from the home medicine cabinet.
That’s according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which reported that 9.9 million Americans misused controlled prescription drugs in 2018.
The Food and Drug Administration has a “flush list” for the disposal of old, unused medicine via the toilet, but even the medicine on this list should only be flushed as a last resort.
“The FDA flush list tells you which old, unwanted, expired or unused medicines to immediately flush only when take back options are not readily available,” according to the FDA.
Getting rid of old medicine
Natasha Nielson, retail pharmacy director at Memorial Regional Health’s Community Pharmacy, said prescription drug expiration dates vary depending on the type of medication. The drug ingredients can start to break down or degrade as medications age, but it’s not something you would notice just by looking at or smelling the medication.
“If you were to take these medications, they probably would not work as well as they should because the drug is not working at its full potential,” Nielson said.
Tablet and capsule prescription medications typically expire one year after the date they are filled at your pharmacy, while most of the liquid antibiotic medications that need to be mixed, generally for children, expire within 10 to 14 days after they are mixed, Nielson said.
“Insulin medications are also another one you want to keep track of. For several of the insulin vials available, once they have been used once — when a needle has punctured the stopper one time — they are good for 28 to 32 days,” she said. “For patient safety, it is always best to check with your pharmacy if you are concerned about the expiration of a prescription medication.”
Why it matters
From 1999 to 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 700,000 people have died from a drug overdose.
“In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids — including prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl — was six times higher than in 1999,” according to the CDC. “On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.”
Children or pets can accidentally take unused opioids — such as hydrocodone, morphine and oxycodone — or visitors might search for them in your drawers and medicine cabinets, warns the FDA.
The Community Pharmacy has relocated to 750 Hospital Loop, inside the new Medical Office Building, and now offers drive-thru services.
Retail Pharmacy Director Natasha Nielson said that offering customers the convenience of picking up and dropping off prescriptions at the pharmacy is an exciting new service.
“Our drive-thru utilizes a pneumatic tube system, making it more like a bank drive-thru instead of a window drive-thru,” she said. “All medications, both prescription and over-the-counter medications, can be picked up using the drive-thru; offering the same services as if you were to come to the front counter.”
It is important to note that even with the added drive-thru at the new location, the Community Pharmacy will still be offering its FREE delivery service within a 17-mile radius, including Hayden city limits.
MRH’s second pharmacy in Steamboat Springs opened Oct. 1 and is located inside the Rapid Care at Curve Plaza in Steamboat Springs.
Every question is a good question. If you have any concerns regarding expiration of medications or finding ways to properly dispose of medications, stop by the Community Pharmacy from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., or call 970-826-3055.
Please also note that the Community Pharmacy cannot take back any unused or expired drugs.
“If you dispose of medications incorrectly, like flushing them down the toilet, those drugs can leach into the water system and cause harm to other people and the environment,” Nielson said. “In the same sense, if you don’t dispose of them at all by leaving them lying around your home, or if you put them in the trash, other people could have access to them. This becomes specifically dangerous if you have children around.”
She added: “The safest way to get rid of any unusable medication is to mix it with a deterrent like coffee grounds or kitty litter before throwing it away. There are also national Drug Take Back Days, where law enforcement will take medications to be disposed of. Our own Public Safety Center also has a disposal inside the main lobby.”
The next National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is Oct. 26, and the Moffat County Public Safety Center is located at 800 W. First St.