April means spring cleaning – time to dust things off, throw things out and start new. When you’re cleaning house this season, don’t forget the medicine cabinet.
Plenty of us probably have old, expired or unused prescription medications lining the shelves of our medicine cabinets. While it may seem harmless to hang on to a few outdated prescriptions, having extra medications around can lead to misuse. The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that more than 20 percent of people ages 12 and older have used prescriptions for nonmedical reasons at least once in their lifetime. Of these, young adults ages 18 to 25 and youth ages 12 to 17 were the most likely to misuse medications.
Even more troubling is that misusing medications can have serious consequences: heroin use is 19 times more likely among people who have used a pain reliever for nonmedical reasons. Seventy-five percent of those who began abusing opioids in the 2000s began with a prescription drug. Here in Ohio, heroin use has reached epidemic proportions, killing more than 4,000 Ohioans in 2017 alone.
Properly disposing of prescriptions is one simple way to minimize the risk of misuse. To help in that effort, check out these tips on spring cleaning your medicine cabinet.
1. Check all expiration dates and follow the one-year cut-off rule
The expiration date on a bottle of pills can seem unclear – after all, does medicine really go bad? The simple answer is yes. Since 1979, drug manufacturers are required to label a medication’s expiration date, and can only guarantee the safety of the drug up until then. As an easy rule of thumb, toss any medication prescribed more than a year ago.
2. Toss any unidentifiable medication
We’re all guilty of packing medications in baggies, jars or pill holders that they didn’t originally come in. If you have unmarked containers of medicine in your cabinet, toss them. This will eliminate the possibility of mistaking one pill for another. In the future, keep medication in clearly labeled containers, which makes the pills easy to identify.
3. Dispose of medication at approved drop site
Don’t simply toss medications in the trash can or flush them down the toilet. In addition to prescription drug abuse leading to heroin use, it’s also bad for the environment. Pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics and mood stabilizers, have been found in the drinking water of at least 41 million Americans. National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is April 28, 2018. Contact your local police or fire department for assistance in proper disposal of medication.