Dangers of Unused Drugs & Medicines

Prevention includes providing a safe home for your children. One small part that can sometimes be overlooked is in a medicine cabinet or on a counter top or a kitchen window sill. The problem items? Medicinal drugs.

These drugs come in all different shapes, forms, and potencies, and can include vitamins, topical agents (like creams, lotions, ointments), analgesics, and inhalants acquired either over the counter (OTC) or by prescription.

PA state statistics have shown 13% of high school children have abused opioid pain relievers, and 12% amphetamines (like Adderall and Ritalin). A 2011 survey by the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs reported 14% adolescents took prescription drugs that were not theirs, and that 18% felt the drugs were harmless. All families need to be educated on disposing of unused medications, to help limit prescription and OTC drug abuse and to protect communities from these opportunistic dangers.

Warning Signs

Warning signs of drug abuse can help families seek help and provide interventions to help the youth. These signs include sudden changes in mood, irritability, confrontational behavior, and lack of interest in usual activities of daily living (ADLs). ADLs include: personal hygiene; alterations in sleep patterns; incomplete homework assignments; missing/skipping school activities they usually attend. Be aware of your child’s extracurricular activities. Initiate open communication, and bring your entire family together regularly for meals and other times. For more information on this subject, see our excellent note by Valerie Homanics on Drug & Alcohol Abuse, Prevention, and Treatment.

What You Can Do

Clean out yours homes of unused and expired medications. Make it an annual rite of spring (like Spring cleaning) to look through medicine cabinets and other storage areas for medications/supplements/additives. Often families will plan ahead for medical emergencies and stock various medicines – but this can lead to potential opportunities for children, especially adolescents, to get into the meds and use them improperly. Families who regularly review all of their medications and supplements will likely keep regular inventory of what ‘s available in the house. The Pennsylvania Health News Service Project (20 medical associations) urges families to remove unused medications, and to take advantage of prescription take-back locations.

Take-back medication sites accept capsules, tablets, creams, ointments, inhalers, nasal sprays, and liquid medications. Medicines not acceptable to the program are injectables, IV solutions, and needles. Locations of take-back sites can be found by contacting your local county’s trash and recycling service, or a local pharmacy. Pennsylvania also has a website to help families locate physical sites.

Do not put medicines down the sink or flush them down the toilet. Keep your home environment safe, and dispose of unused or expired drugs.

Helpful Resources

PA Web Site
Interactive Map of PA by Counties
National Program – September 1, 2015

Dr. Lucas Godinez, a Kids Plus Provider since 2004, is a shareholder in the practice.