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What do you see when you open your medicine cabinet?

For many, the medicine cabinet houses a collection of orange plastic pill bottles containing expired prescription medication that is no longer useful to us. I encourage everyone to think about cleaning out their medicine cabinets as part of spring cleaning by safely and responsibly disposing of all unneeded, unused and expired medications.

Why is safe disposal of medication important?

Many prescription pain medications are opioids. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, opioids are a class of drugs that include prescribed medications like oxycodone and hydrocodone. Commonly, these drugs are prescribed to patients following medical or dental procedures, and they are also sometimes used to manage pain for those suffering from chronic pain.

Prescription medication, especially opioids, often goes unused and ends up sitting in medicine cabinets where it can be accessed by young children or those who are intentionally seeking the medication to fuel an addiction – a family member, a neighbor, or your child’s friend. If you have old pain medication in your cabinet, would you notice if a pill was missing?

Sadly enough, over 15% of high school students in Montana reported having taken a prescription medication without a prescription, according to the State of Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services in 2015. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48,000 Americans lost their lives from prescription opioid overdose in 2017.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claims that accidental exposure to medication in the home is also a major source of unintentional poisoning. While medication may be left on a counter or table for convenience, remember to put all medication away when children are around. Safely disposing of all medication once it’s no longer necessary drastically reduces the risk of unintentional poisoning or overdose. Everyone should have the number to the Poison Control Center posted somewhere in their home: 1-800-222-1222.

I often hear people say they do not dispose of unwanted or expired opioids because they “may need them someday” for an especially painful headache or back ache. However, self-prescribing prescription pain medication is never a good idea. If your pain is severe enough that it does not respond to over-the-counter options, you should see your doctor.

The opioid epidemic is complex. Physicians, pharmacists, community leaders, educators, public health officials, nonprofits and more are committed to finding ways to curb the misuse of prescription pain medication. You can do your part to keep our community and youth safe by responsibly disposing of your unused prescription pain medication. For local youth and parents, the nonprofit Youth Connections (www.youthconnectionscoalition.org) has great resources on preventing prescription drug abuse.

How do I responsibly dispose of medications?

According to the FDA, the best way to dispose of unwanted, unused or expired medications is through a drug take back program. This means disposing of medications in a safe medication disposal bin or at a community drug take back event.

Disposing of medications in the trash should be a last resort. If a drug take back program isn’t available in your community, the FDA recommends taking the medication out of the original container and mixing it with something undesirable like kitty litter or coffee grounds before you throw it away.

Here are some other safety tips for disposing of medication:

Flushing medications: For years, we were told to flush unused and expired medication. Some medications still need to be flushed (instructions to flush will be shared by the pharmacist when prescribed), but today we do not recommend that you flush the majority of medications. Pharmaceuticals at very low levels enter our water supply through excrement, but we can significantly limit the amount of pharmaceuticals in our water by not flushing our medications.

Disposing of needles: Needles and syringes should not be disposed of in medication disposal bins. Needles and syringes should be placed in strong plastic containers with lids, sealed with duct tape and disposed of in the garbage. They should not be flushed or recycled. For more information, visit www.safeneedledisposal.org.

Brian Heeney, RPH, is the outpatient pharmacy coordinator at St. Peter’s Health Medical Group – Broadway Clinic.

Saturday, April 27 is National Drug Take Back Day. You can learn about local events at: https://takebackday.dea.gov/.

Community members can safely dispose of their unused and unwanted medication year-round at St. Peter’s Health Medical Group – Broadway Pharmacy at 2550 Broadway Ave. in Helena from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. For a full list of local drop-off locations, visit: https://dphhs.mt.gov/amdd/substanceabuse/dropboxlocations.

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