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Clean out your medicine cabinet

Published in Addiction Services, Neurosciences Author: Jennifer Hiemenz, PharmD

One of the most common questions I get asked as a pharmacist is “can I still use this old medication I found in my cabinet?”

Sometimes this answer is easy, because many over-the-counter medications have an expiration date printed on the packaging. Prescription vials are a little different. A general rule of thumb is that prescription medication can be used up to one year after the date it is dispensed from the pharmacy. This also assumes that it was stored at the correct temperature away from light and moisture. However, medications can pose a risk even when just sitting there in your cabinet.

Accidental poisonings can happen when children or pets gain access to medication. Children may be especially interested in medication because of how much it looks like candy. The Minnesota Poison Control Center receives the highest call volume from mothers or daycare providers of children under the age of five years old. 

Painkillers, stimulants, sleeping pills and anxiety medication can appeal to teens and adults for different reasons. These medications are at a high risk of diversion, misuse or abuse. Roughly two-thirds of people aged 12 and up who said that they abused pain killers got them from friends or family. Painkillers like opioids can be leftover from surgery or injuries that get better in a short period of time. It is very important to destroy those pills when they are no longer needed. Saving them for later can have unintended consequences.

The easiest way to get rid of medication is placing it in the trash or flushing it down the toilet. However, that is generally not the best method of disposal for our environment. Active medications can enter our water supply through runoff from waste landfills and not all medication contaminants are removed by water treatment plants. Incineration is not a perfect way to solve the medication destruction dilemma, but it does make sure that unused medication is completely deactivated.

Medication drop boxes are available at most law enforcement offices. These boxes are designed so that when medication is placed in the box, it cannot be removed by anyone else.

Here are some local medication drop box locations:

  • Walgreens — 2505 W Division Street in St. Cloud
  • Stearns County Law Enforcement Center — 807 Courthouse Square in St. Cloud
  • Waite Park Police Department — 19 13th Ave. N
  • Melrose Police Department — 225 1st St. NE
  • Sauk Centre Police Department — 320 Oak Street S.

The Poison Help Hotline is 1-800-222-1222. Store this number in your phone and in a prominent location at home in case an emergency should arise.

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