Old and out-of-date medications lurking in your bathroom cabinet might not do you any harm — but they probably won’t do you any good either, and they could be a hazard to others.
Accidental poisonings do happen — especially when it comes to a curious child or a dog that will eat anything.
The Southeast Poison Control Center in Galveston took more than 25,000 calls last year on incidents that no one saw coming.
Even if there is no risk of a poisoning, why take up space with old pills and prescriptions?
“I’ve done it myself,” Jean Cleary, director of the poison center, said. “I’ve saved medications that I thought I might possibly need someday maybe.”
But it’s a good rule of thumb to dispose of any medications after six months, Cleary said.
If you’re taking an antibiotic, it’s important to complete the course of treatment. But what about the medications that you might not finish?
Let’s say you had a minor surgery six months ago and you only took a few of the prescribed pain pills and thought, “I’ll keep these because I might need them someday.” But someday never arrives and there they sit.
While most medications simply lose efficacy, others become more potent: for example, over-the-counter liquid medications with alcohol in them become stronger.
“A clean sweep helps to prevent accidental poisonings, but it’s also important because some prescription drugs — like tetracycline — can actually become toxic when they start to break down,” Cleary said.
Before you start flushing or dumping medications in the toilet or trash, make sure you know the safe and easy way to clear out the medicine cabinet without polluting the natural waterways.
Community-based drug “take-back” programs are the best option for almost all medicines, Cleary said.
There are seven drop-box receptacles in Galveston County and southeast Harris County at designated law enforcement and medical agencies. All but one are available 24 hours daily. They are:
• Dickinson Police Department, 4000 Liggio St., Dickinson;
• Galveston Police Department, 601 54th St., Galveston;
Santa Fe Police Department, 4925 Main St., Santa Fe;
• La Porte Police Department, 3001 North 23rd St., La Porte;
• Community Service Bureau, 220 West Defee, Baytown;
• Walgreens, 3707 Spencer Highway, Pasadena,
• Nassau Bay Police Department, Nassau Bay Municipal Building, 1800 Space Park Drive, Suite 200. (Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Fridays.)
If you have questions about the drop-box program, email email@example.com.
“Liquid medications, injectable sharps (needles) and illegal drugs cannot be put in drop boxes,” Cleary said.
For those medications, Cleary recommends following these simple steps, provided by the Food and Drug Administration, to dispose of these in your household trash:
1. Mix medicines (tablets, capsules, liquids) with an unappealing substance such as sand, Kitty Litter, or used coffee grounds;
2. Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag;
3. Throw the container in your household trash;
4. Be sure to scratch out all personal information on the prescription label of your empty pill bottle or empty medicine packaging to make it unreadable, and recycle the container.
“Heat, sunlight and humidity will break down medications, so these will degrade naturally,” she said.
Place injectable drugs or needles in a clean empty plastic milk container or you can purchase a sharps container at most pharmacies for proper trash disposal.
Flushing is not always off-limits. For a full list of flushable medications, check the following link at the Food and Drug Administration at: https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/EnsuringSafeUseofMedicine/SafeDisposalofMedicines/UCM337803.pdf
For certain medications including OxyContin, Demerol, Percocet and others, the FDA recommends flushing to get rid of the medicines immediately.
What about giving prescription medications to shelters or clinics that might be able to use them?
That’s not legal in the United States, Cleary said.
Once the medication has left the pharmacy, whether used or not, it can’t be given to anyone else.
How long should you keep pharmaceuticals before dropping, trashing or flushing them?
“My general rule of thumb is that if you have a prescription drug for longer than six months, throw it out,” Cleary said.
“The condition for which it was prescribed will likely have changed and you won’t need it after that.”
If there are medications you must keep, then store them away from the bathroom to help retain their potency.
Contact your pharmacist or the poison control center if you have questions about a specific drug. The poison control hotline number is 1-800-222-1222.
The Food and Drug Administration also maintains a hotline: The toll free number is 1-855-543-3784.