SUMMARY: Keeping unused prescriptions in the home creates a risk of harmful adverse drug events. Dispose of unneeded medications immediately to protect family members from unintended consequences.
We’ve all heard doctors remind us to “take all your antibiotics, even if you feel better,” but few providers mention disposing of ‘as-needed’ medications after the need has passed. Forgetting about old or unneeded prescriptions or worse, saving medications, creates many dangerous risks for the whole family.
Hoarding unneeded medications can put everyone in your family at risk of an adverse medication event like accidental ingestion, medication confusion, or even overdose. For example, research recently published in the Journal of American Medical Association found that just having a single opioid prescription in the home increases the odds of overdose by 5.2% 1. In comparison, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports the average American has a mere 1.3% chance of being in a fatal automobile crash.
And opioid overdose is only one of many risks of keeping expired or unneeded medications.
Saving old medications can put you and your entire family in unnecessary danger. For patients, taking old meds can lead to misuse or self-medication without proper medical advice. Without proper medical supervision, prescription drugs can have unintended interactions and cause harmful adverse drug events.
If you have children, teens, pets, or elderly family members in your household, all of them could be at risk of accidental ingestion. Children may mistake pills for candy. Pets may accidentally consume tablets thinking they are treats. Teens are most vulnerable to intentional misuse. Research recently published in the JAMA shows that 1 in 4 teens admit to misusing prescription stimulants like Adderall® or Ritalin® 2 and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports they often take it from the home medicine cabinet 3. Due to polypharmacy (taking multiple prescriptions), the elderly are at increased risk of medication confusion like accidentally taking the wrong drug. The elderly can even be targeted for burglary as they keep large quantities of opioids and other prescriptions in the home.
Some patients may consider holding prescriptions for a drug take-back day or dropping them in a kiosk. Unfortunately, storing medications for a drug take-back day can unintentionally create a dangerous stockpile. If you insist on taking your prescriptions to a drug take back day event, consider using a DisposeRx packet to destroy the drug in the vial and then holding the vial for the event. DisposeRx packets are small, inexpensive, easy to use, and non-toxic. Remember, every moment the unneeded prescription is in the home, there is an increased risk of an adverse drug event.
Remember: For the safety of your home and family, remember to check your prescriptions every time you see them. Every moment an unneeded or expired medication is in your home, it can put you, your family, and pets at risk of an adverse medication event. If you have an unneeded or expired prescription, take preventative action and dispose of it immediately with a DisposeRx packet.
- Hendricks MA, El Ibrahimi S, Ritter GA, et al. Association of Household Opioid Availability With Opioid Overdose. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(3):e233385. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.3385
- McCabe, S.E., Schulenberg, J.E., Wilens, T.E., Schepis, T.S., McCabe, V.V., and Veliz, P.T. (2023). Prescription Stimulant Medical and Nonmedical Use Among US Secondary School Students, 2005 to 2020. JAMA Netw Open. (4):e238707. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.8707
- NIDA. 2019, August 8. Teens who misuse medicines get them from multiple sources. Retrieved from https://archives.nida.nih.gov/news-events/science-highlight/teens-who-misuse-medicines-get-them-multiple-sources on 2023, May 25