- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pill bottles and other medicine containers saved with the intention of later use can be forgotten, and their contents can expire before their users realize they are still there.

But having expired medicine around the house can lead to a series of problems, including the potential for drug abuse, health issues and environmental problems, unless it’s properly disposed of.

To help avoid problems like these, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was created in 1988 by the Anti-Drug Act to establish policies, priorities and objectives for the nation’s drug control problem.

In February, the ONDCP teamed up with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create the country’s first interagency guidelines for proper disposal of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

“This is the first time we’ve developed any interagency guidelines for getting rid of prescription drugs,” says Jennifer de Vallance, a spokeswoman for the ONDCP. “There have always been guidelines for commercial entities and industries, but not for individual users.”

These guidelines are the result of the growing rate of prescription drug abuse, Ms. de Vallance says. Prescription drug abuse is now the second highest form of illegal drug use, and the problem is increasing because of easy access to these types of medicines at home, she says.

“People don’t have to go to the shady world of drug dealers to get access to them,” Ms. de Vallance says. “All they have to do is go to mom and dad’s medicine cabinet.”

Matthew Fricker, a pharmacist and program director with the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, says the first step to avoiding any problems with expired medicines at home is to get rid of them. The nonprofit institute devotes itself to medication error prevention and safe medication use.

“Most drugs do not work as effectively after they expire,” Mr. Fricker says. “It’s best just not to take it after the date because some [medicines] can even cause harm to the person taking it.”

Most people save prescription drugs and other medications because of the high cost, or the idea that they’ll save it for later use, Mr. Fricker says. Some people save them to share with family members because “people don’t like to throw money away and want to save a trip to the doctor,” he says.

“Sharing prescriptions is never a good idea,” Mr. Fricker says.

The FDA recommends cleaning out medicine cabinets at least once a year, checking for expiration dates and throwing away all expired medications.

To properly dispose of these excess and expired medicines, the federal government recommends that consumers first take the medicine out of its original container.

The container can be thrown away with regular household trash or recycled.

Taking the medicine out of the bottles is a crucial step to thwarting drug abusers, Mr. Fricker says. “The goal is to make sure that the pills are not identifiable while they’re in the trash.”

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