The epidemic of prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths makes proper storage and disposal of these powerful medications more important than ever.
Danger Lurking in Your Medicine Cabinet
Abuse of prescription drugs is a serious public health problem in the United States. Among the most commonly abused drugs are opioids or painkillers. When prescribed by a health professional and taken properly, prescription medications can be beneficial to patients suffering injury, chronic pain or effects of a disease like cancer.
Abuse of these drugs occurs when someone uses a medication without a prescription, in a way other than as prescribed or directed, or for the way it makes them feel ("high"). Drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the United States. About 46,000 Americans die each year from drug-related deaths. More than half of those are from heroin and prescription opioids.
"In 2014, 2,500 people died in Pennsylvania from opioid-related deaths, which is more than the number of people who died in car accidents," reports Christine Roussel, Clinical Pharmacy manager at Doylestown Hospital.
Consider this: 80 percent of heroin addicts started with prescription pain medication, either theirs or someone else's. Studies have shown that most teens abusing prescription drugs are getting them from the medicine cabinets of friends, family or acquaintances. Some young people hand out or sell pills of their own, or pills they've stolen.
Lock Your Medicine Cabinet
To prevent having your medications stolen or misused
- Add a secure lock to your existing medicine cabinet
- Install a new medicine cabinet that locks
- Purchase a smaller medication lock box that fits inside your medicine cabinet.
Properly Discard Unused Drugs
In a study of 250 patients receiving opioids after surgery, the average patient only consumed one-third of their total prescription. This resulted in 4,639 leftover pills of prescription painkillers that could potentially be misused.
"Considering that study was a snapshot of a small group of patients, that leaves a significant amount of unused prescription opioids in the medicine cabinets, kitchens and bathrooms in households in across Pennsylvania," said Christine. "These unused opioids risk being stolen and abused by children, friends, or neighbors or sold to others."
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration started sponsoring national drug take-back efforts to get drugs out of the hands of potential abusers. Last year, thousands of Americans in communities across the country discarded more than 350 tons of unused, expired, or unwanted drugs as part of the DEA National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day Initiative.
In 2015, the Pennsylvania State prescription drug take-back program removed from circulation 40,000 pounds of drugs, which were hauled away by the National Guard.
Drug disposal guidelines and locations
- Follow any specific disposal instructions on the prescription drug labeling or patient information that accompanies the medicine. Do not flush medicines down the sink or toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.
- Take advantage of programs that allow the public to take unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Bucks County offers medication disposal sites that are open throughout the year.
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