dahlia in my garden: Rio Fuego in Coleus leaves

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Medication Safety: A Clean Sweep (part three)

If I buy a plant and really enjoy having it in my garden, I will save the seeds so I can grow it myself next spring. It saves me money and I know I’m getting the exact plant I want. Properly stored seeds can last a very long time.

One spring I planted six seeds of a favorite annual flower and put them under my grow lights. I was astounded when only one of them came up - that’s a very high failure rate! When I looked at the bottle, I saw I had collected them 10 years ago. After a number of years, seeds can lose viability especially if not kept in ideal storage conditions. 

That same spring I bought an envelope of seeds from a discount nursery which also had a high failure rate. I then noticed the expiration date stamp; it was more than a year past. Even though the package looked new and in perfect condition, I hadn’t thought to look more closely and just assumed the seeds were good. I now make it a habit each spring to clear out my stored seeds which are six years old or more, since they just aren’t worth wasting my time and resources on. I’m also a more careful shopper, and check expiration dates of ALL products before I buy.

Tomato & flower seedlings under the grow lights in my kitchen.

Our medicine cabinets are a place where we should DEFINTELY be cautious and clear out unwanted or unusable drugs on a regular basis. Most of us are frugal and don’t want to get rid of things we feel we might use later - especially if they are expensive or not easy to get our hands on quickly. But with drugs, it’s never a good idea to keep them indefinitely, assuming they’ll always be ready and safe to use at a moment’s notice.

Everybody should pick a time to clean out the medicine cabinet and make that a yearly task on the same date next year. Maybe you want to start out each New Year doing it, or set it on your birthday, or with your spring cleaning, or whatever time is easiest for you to remember and commit to doing it. It’s so important for the health of your entire family!

It can be a bit overwhelming when you open up the cabinet door and look inside. Where do you start? My own cabinet is, I’m sure, is no different than anyone else’s. I have a habit of adding my new prescriptions in the front and pushing the older ones towards the back. The area I have set aside for Over-the Counter (OTC) medications is piled up with packages both my husband and I have bought through the year to treat allergies, colds, and flu. It’s not a pretty sight and not a fun chore, but it must be done.

I attack my cabinet by emptying everything out, trying to keep Rx meds separate from OTC drugs so I can sort them more speedily. As I place things back in the cabinet, I set aside the items I no longer wish to keep.


~Expired and Recalled Medications: 
It’s obvious why you should get rid of these items. Make sure you check the package carefully to find the expiration date. But remember, expiration dates can be trusted only if the medicine has been properly stored. Never keep your meds in a bathroom where you shower/bathe because the environment is too humid, even inside the medicine cabinet. Your storage place should have a temperature between 59 and 80 degrees, be dry, and out of direct light. 

Some drugs easily reveal they are not fit for consumption: aspirin gives off a strong vinegary scent when it’s no longer suitable for ingestion, hydrogen peroxide which has lost its potency will no longer bubble when applied to skin, and ointments might separate or become discolored. Unfortunately, not all medications have such telltale signs. For example, eye or ear drops show no signs of "aging," yet may cause a dangerous infection if used past their expiration dates.

Never mix drugs in a single container because some chemicals react with one another, neutralizing the medications or causing harmful side effects. If you find meds outside their original outer packaging and you aren’t sure how old they are, err on the side of caution and don’t keep them.

-To check if any of your meds have been recalled, visit this webpage: FDA Drug Recalls

-To check if any of your meds, supplements, herbal remedies, or medical products have been reported to have any labelling errors or adverse effects, go here:

~Leftover Medications
Say you have half a bottle of medication left over from a condition you were treated for a year ago...you should NOT keep it on the off-chance that you’ll need it again. Besides, any meds you haven’t touched in a year should be removed. It can also be too much of a temptation to self-treat another family member if you think they have developed the same condition, but you should never ever give your medication to someone else. You can’t know how it will react with that person’s other medications or health conditions and the results could be disastrous.

~Medications That Don’t Seem Right
Even if they are well before their expiration date, throw away medicines that have changed color, smell or taste. It could be there was a time they were not stored properly, which makes them unsafe. Beware if you see cracked pills and check if they’ve left a powdery residue on the bottom of the bottle, or if gelatinous coatings have noticeably softened or become sticky. These changes may also indicate the drugs are not safe for consumption and it is best to replace them immediately.


~Which meds can you flush?
Now that you’ve removed the unwanted drugs, you must dispose of them properly. The general practice of flushing them down the toilet is not sugggested for all drugs, only a select few. To read the FDA list of which drugs you can flush, go here: 

~How to properly throw out the other medications
The FDA recommends most medicines be discarded in household trash but you must complete five steps: 

1.  Take them out of their original containers.
2.  Mix the medications with used coffee grounds or kitty litter. This will make the medication less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.
3.  Pour the mixture into a sealable plastic bag, empty can, or other container to prevent it from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
4.  Remove and destroy ALL identifying personal information (prescription label) from all medication containers before recycling them or throwing them into the garbage.
5.  Now they can be safely thrown out.

~Using a drug take back program
Drug take back programs are another option, and there’s a nationwide one this month sponsored by the DEA on Saturday, April 30, 2011, from 10am to 2pm. To find a location in your area where you can bring your meds, go here: 

~Ask your pharmacist
You can also talk to your pharmacist and ask if they know about other medicine disposal programs in your area or if they can take care of discarding the meds for you.

~*MEDICATION SAFETY*~ is a vital issue for all patients. 
Please use the advice & tips I provided in this three-part series 
to keep you and your loved ones safe & healthy:


Three other websites where I got information for this blog post are:

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