Is trouble lurking in your medicine cabinet?
Trouble could be lurking in your medicine cabinet: Prescription drugs that have expired or are no longer being used.
The trouble comes when people don’t take precautions against someone else gaining access to the drugs or stealing them from the trash. Another problem arises when people dispose of the drugs by pouring them down the drain or flushing them away, allowing traces of the chemicals to find their way into our lakes.
This month is a good time to stop that kind of trouble in its tracks. October is Medicine Abuse Awareness Month. Health officials are urging Minnesota families to check their medicine cabinets for unused or unwanted prescription drugs and over-the-counter cough medicines.
“Just by keeping these drugs in your household, you could unknowingly be providing easy access to one of the fastest growing categories of abused substances,” said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. “Prescription drug abuse is rising rapidly, especially among teens. When abused, prescription drugs can be just as dangerous as illicit drugs and often act as gateway drugs to heroin.”
The magnitude of heroin and opiate abuse across Minnesota is at its highest level ever. Addiction treatment admissions for heroin and other opiates accounted for 20 percent of all treatment admissions in the Twin Cities in 2012, second only to alcohol admissions, according to DHS research.
Heroin use is not just a big city problem. It’s on the rise here in Douglas County as well. In his annual report to the Alexandria City Council, Chief Rick Wyffels said that cocaine, crack and heroin related crimes are increasing here and helped account for 78 drug arrests last year, up from 50 the previous year.
The Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, which promotes Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, reports that prescription drug abuse nationally among teens 12 and older increased 20 percent since 2002 and that 5 percent of teens nationally report abusing over-the-counter cough medicine to get high over the last year.
Jesson said prescription drugs can be easy to get, often from family or friends for free or by visitors using home bathrooms. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers these guidelines for drug disposal:
• Follow any specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that accompanies the medication. Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.
• Take advantage of community drug take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Drugs are accepted for free at the Alexandria Police Department and at the Pope County Courthouse. Many neighboring counties also have programs, according to Nathan Reinbold, environmental coordinator with Pope/Douglas Solid Waste Management.
• If no instructions are given on the drug label and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in the household trash but first: Take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. This mixture will be less appealing to children and pets and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash. Put the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage can.
• When in doubt about proper disposal, talk to your pharmacist.
Along with getting rid of unused medication, it’s important to talk to children, family and friends about the dangers of using medicine prescribed to another person, Jesson said. Drugs most often abused are: Painkillers: Vicodin, Tylenol with codeine, OxyContin, Percocet; Depressants: Xanax, Valium, Nembutal; Stimulants: Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta; and over-the-counter: Cough medicines.