To do Saturday: Clean out and discard unused Rx drugs

Bernie and Beverly Strain, a Manayunk couple who lost their 18-year-old son to an avoidable prescription drug interaction, have a message for you: Take some time Saturday to clean out unused prescription drugs from your medicine cabinets. Then take your unneeded drugs to one of the 3,400 sites around the country - including dozens of police stations, municipal buildings and colleges in the Philadelphia area - that have agreed to take them for disposal.

Old medications are being accepted between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday. Click here to find a site near you. To read more about the National Take-Back Initiative, conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and "Timothy Strain Prescription Drug Disposal Awareness Day," click here.

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When he died in August 2009, Timothy Strain was 18 and a student at Philadelphia's Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences. His parents have been sharing the story of how it happened in part because the events were so painfully ordinary that they illustrate why misused prescription drugs are a large, and largely unrecognized, risk.

Tim had been cutting lawns to raise money for college - he wanted to be a veterinarian - when he burned his hand badly by touching his lawn mower's muffler.  A hospital burn center prescribed a narcotic pain-killer, but he was still hurting, so his girlfriend's mother decided to give him another, stronger narcotic that she had been prescribed. Tim was found dead the next morning.

Bernie Strain, an assistant to State Treasurer Rob McCord, and Beverly Strain, a nurse, chose, as Bernie puts it, "to make lemons out of lemonade."  In their efforts, they learned that prescription-drug overdoses or interactions killed more than 27,000 people last year. "More people die from prescription drugs than die from illegal drugs," Strain says.

They also learned that simply throwing out old drugs poses an environmental problem. Medications that are often powerful toxins and sometimes carcinogenic can enter groundwater and get into drinking-water supplies.  Though they appear in minute amounts, their long-term effects are unclear. One example: Discarded hormones are believed to have harmed development in some species of fish.

Bernie Strain contacted U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa), and the result was a resolution passed by the Senate on May 24, which would have been Tim's 19th birthday, declaring Saturday as "Timothy Strain Prescription Drug Disposal Awareness Day." If you take advantage of the safe disposal sites, you can help protect the environment, and perhaps even save a life. 

Tim Strain's story is a powerful reminder of the inherent risks of prescription drugs, which can cause serious side-effects on their own and can be especially risky if taken in combination with alcohol or with other prescription or nonprescription drugs. Remember:  It's never wise to give someone else your prescription drugs, or to take a drug prescribed for someone else.

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