Why Your Medicine Cabinet Needs a ‘Spring Cleaning’ This Saturday

April 27, 2017 6:00 AM

A national event encouraging prescription drug disposal returns this weekend. A Michigan Medicine physician explains the benefits of timely cabinet cleanses and safe storage.

Medications are a wonder of modern science. But they can be harmful if misused, regardless of whether the circumstances are intentional or accidental.     

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Children are often the victims of accidental misuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 70,000 children under the age of 18 visit emergency departments in this country each year due to accidental ingestion of medications.  

Still, the problem affects all ages. More than 1 million emergency room visits occur annually in the United States each year as a result of prescription drug overdose or misuse — as do 50,000 fatalities. In Michigan, a statistically significant increase in such deaths was recorded in 2014-15.

As an emergency physician, I have seen too many of these tragedies.  

Health care professionals, policymakers and law enforcement are working together to alleviate this problem.  

You, too, can help in a simple way: Clean out your medicine cabinet this week.

The 12th annual National Prescription Drug Take Back Day will return on Saturday. The annual event provides an opportunity to remove — and safely dispose of — expired, unneeded or unwanted medications from your home. (Visit the official homepage above to search for a collection site near you).

The home medicine cabinet, after all, is one of the most common sources of abused medications, according to a recent federal survey. Removing these medications from the home can remove this temptation and the potential for them to be misused.

Here’s why you should use the event as an opportunity to do some “spring cleaning” on your medicine cabinet — and a few guidelines to observe year-round:

  • Many teens and young adults who report abuse of prescription medicines say they first obtained medicines from a family or friend’s medicine cabinet. Check your medicine cabinets and anywhere else you may be keeping medications. Properly discard any expired or unneeded medications in your possession.  

  • Expired medications pose a risk of interaction with other prescription drugs. Although many safeguards exist with modern computerized recordkeeping to double-check for interactions with each other in a patient, sharing medications with someone else or retaining them for years to take with new medications is never a good idea.

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  • Flushing medications down the toilet can damage the water supply — and, in some cases, may even be illegal.

  • Over-the-counter medications can also be a problem. Aspirin, acetaminophen or even iron supplements can be deadly if taken in large amounts.

  • Many pill organizers are not childproof. That can result in children ingesting medications that aren’t safely stored. Keep all such organizers properly secured, whether or not they lock.

  • Medications should not be left unsecured and visible, such as near or on the kitchen table, where they may be accidentally ingested, or on a windowsill or in a vehicle, where they may be at risk of theft. Keep all medications out of sight and out of a child’s reach.