Unwanted Medication Goes Here

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Unwanted Medication Goes Here

Mar 5, 2019

Many seniors rely on a broad array of prescription medicines to help their bodies function smoothly and efficiently. Whether they are taking antibiotics, cholesterol-lowering medications, or painkillers, seniors can benefit enormously from the groundbreaking innovation of research scientists and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Man and woman looking at medication and computer screen


Often, and for various reasons, seniors have an overabundance of these medications. Perhaps their physicians prescribed painkillers to take on an as-needed basis, and their pain was brought under control before the medicine was fully used. Maybe they misplaced a bottle of pills, only to unearth them later and find they had expired. Increasingly, pharmacists and other medical professionals are realizing seniors need better information about how to dispose of leftover or excess medicine in a safe and effective way.

"Prescription drugs can be dangerous," notes Robert Shmaeff, Director of Pharmacy at the Jewish Home. "Storing unneeded prescription medication at home after completing the prescribed regimen exposes them to children and other people who may not be aware of the risks they present."

Fortunately, finding appropriate methods of medication disposal is getting easier. The California State Board of Pharmacy has created an online database of locations offering drug-take-back services statewide. This convenient new resource promotes environmental protection (pills disposed of improperly can contaminate the local water supply) and also helps stop prescription drug abuse.

Determining where to dispose of unwanted medications depends, in part, on the type of pills being thrown away. For instance, registered receptacles can collect prescription drugs, including controlled substances, as well as over-the-counter medicine. However, auto-injectors such as EpiPens require alternate handling. Consumers can visit the California Department of Public Health website for more details.

In addition to the pharmacy board and state public health department, patients can turn to a variety of other resources for advice on getting rid of medication properly such as the federal Drug Enforcement Administration website and "Don’t Rush to Flush," a site administered by the California Product Stewardship Council that has a wealth of information about responsible drug disposal.

These resources are emerging at just the right time: A recent poll by the University of Michigan shows Americans between the age of 50 and 80 receive too little guidance about what to do with medicine they no longer need. Nearly half of survey respondents reported having medication left over; 86 percent of those individuals said they kept the medicine in case their pain returned.

"The fact that so many older adults report having leftover opioid pills is a big problem, given the risk of abuse and addiction with these medications," Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for AARP, said in a press release about the study.

The bottom line: Education about what to do with these pills is a critical part of the formula for a healthy society—and vital for keeping seniors active and thriving into their golden years.

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