Many years ago, a new father was inspired by the birth of his first child to improve his health. He used a prescription medication to stop smoking and when he had some medication left over, he placed it in a drawer. When his child grew to be an inquisitive toddler, the child found the medication and before the parents were aware had ingested enough of these pills to be at risk for seizures and other life-threatening complications.
Fortunately, this story ended well. Managed quickly in the hospital, the child suffered no complications and after observation was sent home.
Tragically, this is not an isolated incident.
Prescription drugs are an important part of modern healthcare. When taken as prescribed, pharmaceuticals have great potential to help with a wide variety of ailments and conditions. When misuse occurs, however, great problems can also result.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 71,000 children under the age of 18 visit emergency departments in this country every year because of accidental ingestion of medications. They also estimate 44 people die every day in the U.S. due to abuse of prescription medications.
As an emergency physician, I have seen too many of these tragedies. Beyond the accidental ingestions by children, leftover prescriptions are often the first exposure to drug abuse for teens and young adults.
Monitoring the Future, an annual survey about adolescent drug use conducted at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, shows that 39 percent of 12th graders reported that prescription narcotics such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet are “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain.
Simple precautions can keep children and others safe from accidental or unintentional overdose. The easiest way is to discard unwanted or unneeded prescriptions properly.
Saturday, April 30, 2016 is the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 11th Annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. Businesses and law enforcement agencies will be collecting medications for appropriate disposal across the country.
Flushing medications down the toilet or throwing them away is often not the safest way to dispose of these drugs. In some cases, it may even be illegal. These take back events are a safe, responsible and convenient way to remove unwanted, unneeded and expired medications from your home.
Here are a few additional quick tips to keep in mind about prescription drug use:
- Safely dispose of medications that have expired. Even though you may have heard that some medications may remain effective past their expiration date, there is seldom a reason to keep medications after that date.
- Medications can interact with other medications. Many safeguards exist with modern electronic medical records to double check how prescriptions will interact with each other in a patient. Sharing medications with someone else, or keeping them for years to come when new medications might have been prescribed, puts individuals at higher risk for interactions and is never a good idea.
- Prescription drugs aren’t the only problem. Even common over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or even iron supplementation can be deadly if taken in large amounts. A small child only needs to ingest a fraction of the amount that an adult would to reach a toxic level.
- Safety first when it comes to medications and children. Be sure to store all medications in child resistant packaging and keep all medications out of sight and out of reach of children.
Take the time now to check your medicine cabinets, drawers, desks, purses, briefcases, vehicles and anywhere else you may be keeping medications. Remove and properly discard any expired medications or unneeded previously used medications that you have by taking them to a local take-back location this Saturday.
And don’t forget: Before taking your medications to a medication take-back location, it’s often suggested that you scratch out or remove any personal information from the bottle or packaging such as name, birthdate or address.
Can’t get there on Saturday? The Division of Pain Research in the Department of Anesthesiology is hosting their next Pain Medication Take-Back Day next weekend, on May 7 at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor.
Some businesses and health care agencies may also collect unwanted or expired medications beyond the annual event. See this website for sites near you:
Take the next steps:
- Visit the DEA’s website and learn more about safe drug disposal.
- Find a local take-back location near you.
- Busy this weekend? Attend next weekend’s take-back event at Pioneer High School.
For more than 160 years, the University of Michigan Health System has been a national leader in advanced patient care, innovative research to improve human health and comprehensive education of physicians and medical scientists. The three U-M hospitals have been recognized numerous times for excellence in patient care, including a #1 ranking in Michigan and national rankings in many specialty areas by U.S. News & World Report.