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Residents being urged to clean out medicine cabinets

There are many good reasons to get rid of old and unused medications, with the local seniors’ coalition asking district residents to take stock of what’s in their medicine cabinets this month as part of its fifth-annual “Medicine Cabinet Cleanout Contest.”

From now until March 31, the public can take all their out-of-date or unused medications they don’t need anymore, bring them to their local pharmacy for safe and free disposal, and possibly win a prize.

Participating pharmacies include Pharmasave Downtown, Shoppers Drug Mart, Emo Drugs, Atikokan Pharmacy, and the ones at Safeway and Wal-Mart.

Those who drop off old drugs will be entered in a draw to win a prize.

Six winners—one from each participating pharmacy—will be drawn randomly after the contest closes.

Safeway pharmacist David Schwartz, a member of the seniors’ coalition, said he’s pleased to see the contest continue for a fifth year because it continues to raise awareness of medication safety.

He explained old medicine should be disposed of so that it’s not used after its best-before date, or accidently used by someone who’s not supposed to take it.

“There’s always a chance of mix-ups,” he warned. “The more you have in the cabinet, the more of a chance you have the wrong thing will be taken.”

Schwartz also noted the more medications people stockpile, the more likely they are to run out of space in their medicine cabinets and turn to storing their medications in less safe locations, like lower shelves or drawers where children may get at them.

Yet another good reason to dispose of unused drugs is to reduce the likelihood that certain medications may be stolen and intentionally used by someone who’s not supposed to take it. “Therehas been some concern about medications being taken from some people and being sold on the street,” said Schwartz.

“There have been cases where someone hasn’t taken all of their medication, and just by slip of the tongue or just something said, it gets around and all of the sudden, somebody’s looking for them at the back door.

“That’s definitely another reason to clean things out and make sure nothing’s there,” he stressed.

Schwartz also said it’s not a good idea to save medications for someone else to use down the road.

Even if a person has a similar health problem as another, the medications prescribed to each individual can be very different in significant ways, such as potency, how the medicine is released, or how it interacts with other drugs they are taking.

“Even though the names might be the same, the medication can be much, much more powerful that you think it is,” Schwartz said.

“You have got to watch out for that, as well.

“It does happen quite a bit,” Schwartz added. “People think, ‘Oh, I didn’t finish mine, I will give it to somebody else later.’

“It doesn’t really work that way. You can get away with it sometimes, but the one time you don’t, it can be very serious,” he warned.

The exercise of cleaning out medicine cabinets also gets people to take stock of medications they have. And if they’re not sure whether it’s OK to take a particular medication any more, this is a good time to ask a pharmacist for advice, reasoned Schwartz.

Becky Holden, a public health educator with the Northwestern Health Unit and chair of the local seniors’ coalition, agreed the contest is an important medication safety awareness campaign.

“Because keeping medication safe is very important for yourself, and acknowledging there are certain prescription drugs that are at a higher risk for theft, if you’re not using them or they’re expired, you should be disposing of them,” she remarked.

Last year, more than 50 people turned in about 40 pounds of medication. In 2008, 54 people turned in total of 55 pounds.

“We continue to have a great response from the community, so we definitely acknowledge that [the contest] is a continued need,” said Holden.

“Every year, old and unused medications are returned.

“Our local pharmacies are really on board with this and continue to support it annually,” she added.

While the contest itself only runs until the end of the month, all area pharmacies will accept old medications (as well as used needles) people bring in year-round.

Holden stressed getting rid of medication at a pharmacy is the proper way to do it. Throwing away medication in the garbage is not the proper way to get rid of them since the medication still is accessible to people who may abuse it.

Likewise, flushing medication down the toilet or into the sink drain isn’t good for the environment, echoed Schwartz.

“Treatment facilities are not set up to filter those medications out, so they get back into the environment,” he noted.

“There has been some studies that have said it has been having an impact [in some places].”

When the medication is turned into a pharmacy, it is put into a special container, which is picked up and disposed of by an environmental company.

For more information about the “Medicine Cabinet Cleanout Contest,” call 274-9827 or 482-2211.

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