I’ve been wanting to write this note for the longest time. As a clinic nurse, I have a few patients asking me how to safely get rid of their expired medicines and/or medicines that they no longer use. Before, I struggled to answer their requests and questions but due to my persistent interest to help our patients and clients, I came across a brochure that answers the question: How to safely dispose of your unwanted/unused medicine.
If you have medications in your medicine cabinet or around your house that have been there for years, it’s time to sort through them and throw them out. Also, you might have received some trial or sample medicines that no longer work for you or had some prescriptions that are not effective in treating your illness and had to go to the next step. These are several reasons why you shouldn’t keep or take old medicines:
1. Prescription medicines are given for specific reasons. Even if you think you have the same illness as before, you shouldn’t take old medications. Left over antibiotics will not be effective even if you think you may have the same symptoms again. First, there is a reason why you should complete the course of taking your antibiotics; second, an antibiotic for your current symptoms may not the be correct prescription for your other symptoms, even if they are somewhat similar.
2. You may be taking other medications or over-the-counter products, such as dietary supplements, vitamins, herbs, since the last time you were prescribed other medications. There is a real risk in mixing two medications, making you sick. For example, the herb St. John’s wort can reduce the effectiveness of HIV and birth control drugs, as well as drugs for heart, cancer, depression and seizures.
3. Out-of-date medicine is less effective. Taking old medications that may no longer be full strength can lead to other medications not working in the future. In other words, you’re giving the bacteria a chance to get stronger because you’re not taking the full effective dose that would kill the bacteria.
Telltale signs of old medications
1. Check the medication container for moisture. If they are stored above a stove or other hot area or near a dishwasher or place with lots of moisture, the changing temperatures can break down the medicine.
2. Liquid medicines can separate over time, causing them to lose their strength. Check to see if the medicine looks blended or if it looks like two different liquids are in the container. Only smooth, well-blended liquid medication should be taken.
3. Check the date on all medications. A general rule of thumb is most medications are good for a year.
4. If you can no longer read a medicine label, definitely throw it out. You never want to take medicine when you’re unsure of what it is.
Throw out with caution
Whatever you do, don’t flush your medications down the toilet. Flushing the medication in the toilet can affect our water system. You can ask your pharmacist how to discard. Some pharmacies will take your old medication, if they do not, they can tell you how to get rid of them. Also, your local solid waste mangement department or the local law enforcement agency should know the proper disposal method for your area.
If you want to do the job yourself, dissolve tablets or capsules in a disposable cup. Pour the mixture and any liquid medication into a milk jug partially filled with cat litter, used coffee grounds, sawdust or flour to prevent misuse. Once you seal the jug throw it in the trash.
Sources: American Pharmacists Association, Healthforums.com, Purdue Achool of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
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