Raleigh, NC – The weather is warming and it’s time to open the windows, air out the house and start spring cleaning. However while many people are cleaning homes, garages, cars and even yards, it’s easy to forget a very important job. Clean out the medicine cabinet, the top drawer, or wherever you keep prescription and over-the-counter medications, supplements, and vitamins.
“There are several dangers associated with keeping unneeded prescription or over-the-counter medicines lying around,” says Mark Gregory, Vice-President of Pharmacy and Government Relations for Kerr Drug.
“Those dangers include children and pets getting into the medicines, taking expired medicines, or confusing old medicines with currently used medicines which could lead to poisoning. It’s always safer to get rid of medicines you don’t need or don’t know.”
The numbers explain it all. In 2000, the estimated cost of all the prescription medicines in the United States totaled 1 billion. But the estimated cost to treat the complications resulting from home medication errors totaled 7 billion.
Kerr Drug offers these suggestions for cleaning out the medicine cabinet.
1. EXPIRATION DATE – Check the date on the label or prescription. If the date is expired or if you’ve had the medicine longer than 6 months, get rid of it. Prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs lose their strength and the power to help after they have expired.
2. WHAT IS THAT? If you don’t know what the medicine is, take it to the pharmacist and ask for help to identify it. Kerr Drug’s pharmacists will be glad to help. If you can’t read the label or it is missing, don’t take it. Get help to identify it or get rid of it.
3. SHARED MEDS Throwaway any medicine given to you by a friend or family member. Prescription medicines should never be shared because people have different reactions to medicines. Even if your symptoms are similar the treatment for the illness or condition could vary depending on age, weight, other medicines being taken or other medical issues. Because everyone is unique, prescriptions are unique as well.
4. MEDICINE LIST After spring cleaning the medicine cabinet, it’s important to make a list of the prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines you take. Keep it with you in case of emergency. It’s one of the first things you will be asked in an emergency room or clinic. Knowing your medicines will help doctors know what conditions you have and any interactions to medicines they may want to prescribe to you.
5. WHAT ABOUT NON-MEDICINES? Clean out items such as sunscreen, which is less effective if it is older than two years. Skin care products and make up turn bad also and can even become tainted with bacteria. Experts suggest disposing of anything not used in three years.
6. DISPOSING OF MEDICINES Some people used to flush unwanted medicines down the toilet or the sink but that can be harmful to the environment and the waterways. In a 2002 study of 139 streams in 30 states, the United States Geological Survey found traces of one or more medicine compounds in 80% of streams sampled. Simply throwing medicines in the trash means children or pets could find them or the medicines could get into the environment because they are still chemically active.
FDA Guidelines for Medication Disposal
- 1. Take medicines out of their original containers.
2. Mix drugs with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter or used coffee grounds.
3. Put the mixture into a disposable container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tub, or into a sealable bag.
4. Conceal or remove any personal information, including Rx number, from prescription containers.
5. Place the sealed container with the mixture, and the empty drug containers, in the trash
“The best lesson to take from spring cleaning your medicine cabinet is to be very aware when buying personal care products and medicines and check the expiration date,” adds Gregory. “Only buy enough to use in a short amount of time.”