In 2016, there were more than 1.6 million reports of unintentional exposures, 69 percent of them involved children less than 13-years-old, according to American Association of Poison Control Centers. In addition, there were over 200,000 intentional exposures to medications, which includes reasons such as self-harm/suicide, and abuse to get high.
A recent study looked at opioid related intoxications in children between 2004 and 2015. The results are alarming: 3,647 patients were admitted to the hospital, 42.9 percent were admitted to the intensive care unit and 58 kids had died.
How can you help prevent this problem? Getting rid of the medications you don’t need is the first step. All prescription medications that are kept at home are a dangerous source of accidental ingestion for children and even pets. They can also be a source of purposeful, harmful, ingestions by teens and adults in an attempt to get high or to cause self-harm.
One way to get rid of medications safely is the Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. Basically, these are events held every six months where national authorities encourage the public to go to a DEA-authorized collector site to eliminate unused prescription drugs.
Last year, during the 14th Take Back Day, 456 tons of unused medications were collected. This is equivalent to about 90 adult elephants! The DEA-authorized collector sites are usually retail or hospital pharmacies. You don’t have to pay anything or provide any personal information. In fact, they ask that you remove labels or use a black marker to hide your personal information.
Finding a DEA collection site is fast and easy. There is a way to search through the DEA, or you can call at 1-800-882-9539. After collection, these medications are made unusable, usually by burning them.
If you can’t participate tomorrow, what can you do? You can use a DEA-authorized collector at any time during the year. If there aren’t any DEA-authorized collectors nearby, you can safely eliminate your medications with these two options:
- Remove the medicine from its container and mix it with dirt, used coffee grounds or kitty litter in a sealable empty plastic bag.
- Throw it into the trash
- Black out or remove prescription label before recycling the container
Flush them: There are certain medications that must be flushed down the toilet or poured down the sink immediately if you no longer need them and a drug take back program is not available for you. This is recommended only for the ones that are very dangerous because accidental ingestion can cause severe problems including death. The US Food and Drug Administration has a list of flushable medications.
Don’t delay! Eliminate your prescription medications that you don’t use anymore. About 45 percent of child poisoning accidents were from medicines stored in child-resistant containers. Your child, friend’s child, family member, or your pet can be the next victim of unintentional poisoning.
If an exposure ever occurs, call our 24/7 Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 and a professional will provide you with assistance. Call 911 if it appears to be a life threatening situation.
Felipe Silva Marambio, PharmD, is Pharmacy Resident at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He wrote this in collaboration with the Poison Control Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.