Safe Storage & Disposal of Medications: Why it’s so important
Don’t let yourself become a dealer or the reason for someone’s addiction. Educate yourself on the proper storage and disposal of your prescription medications.
These are prescription pills, they can’t hurt anyone. Wrong!
Many people believe that because a medication is prescribed and legitimate, it cannot be harmful. Unfortunately, that is not the case. One of the fastest progressing drug problems in the United States is misuse of prescription pills, and use is rising among teens and young adults.
The main types of drugs that are misused are stimulants, such as Adderall, depressants like Xanax or Valium, and opioid painkillers, like OxyContin. Many of these medications are commonly prescribed, and can be found in a typical medicine cabinet. There are a variety of short and long term health consequences when these prescription drugs are misused, with side effects ranging from paranoia, disorientation, and fatigue, to irregular heartbeats, slow breathing, and seizures upon withdrawal. Misusing any drug can also cause addiction down the line.
Unfortunately, these side effects are even more harmful to youth as their brain and body are still developing. You may ask, where are kids finding these medications? The answer is very close to home - maybe even in their own bathrooms. According to Partnership to End Addiction, 42% of teens got drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinet, and almost half of teens reported they got prescription drugs from a friend.
The sad truth is, misusing prescription drugs can lead to addiction and dependence on the substance. Once addicted, it is more likely that teens will turn to unsafe sources to obtain the drugs, such as the streets, social media, or the internet. This increases their chances of coming in contact with counterfeit pills that may be laced with fentanyl and could be deadly. According to research from the US Drug Enforcement Administration, out of all fake pills laced with fentanyl, 6 out of 10 contain a lethal dose, making counterfeit pills more dangerous now than ever before.
Youth and young adults turn to drugs for a multitude of reasons, many of which lead back to stress. Perhaps they want to self-medicate for depression, anxiety or sleep, or use them as a study aid. They may want to better themselves and turn to these medications for weight loss, improved sport performance, or professional success. They may even use them as a cure for boredom or to just have fun.
How You Can Prevent Medication Misuse
It’s important that teens have other means for coping with stress so they do not feel the need to turn to drugs to cope. Things as simple as getting a good night’s sleep, finding hobbies and activities they enjoy, and regular exercise can go a long way in reducing stress and improving mental health.
Teens also need to feel like they have an adult in their life that they can trust to talk to about stress, such as a teacher or parent. All teens need someone to look up to, and it's important that they have adults in their life who model healthy behaviors and don’t turn to substance use to cope with their own stress.
Parents can help to positively influence their children’s lives by having open and honest conversations with them about drug use. When parents speak honestly to their kids, children are more likely to respect and listen to their parent’s advice. It’s never too early to discuss the risks of drug misuse- approximately 5 in 10 kids as young as 12 years old have obtained prescription painkillers for non-medical use.
| Download our talking tips to guide your conversations with teens and young adults.
How can we take steps to ensure that teens do not have easy access to pills? Safe storage and proper disposal of prescription drugs is crucial. You can easily become a dealer if you do not keep your pills in a safe storage space or dispose of them properly. Prescription drugs should always be stored in their original containers, which can avoid any confusion of taking the wrong pill. Most of these containers are child proof, deterring younger children from obtaining them. They are also dated and include information on quantity, making it easy to know if any are missing. All drugs should be kept locked up, such as in a lock bag, lock box, or a safe. Only the person to whom the medications are prescribed, and any caregivers if necessary, should have access to them. Any medications that are expired or leftover should be properly disposed of. Remember to also keep other addictive substances, such as cannabis and alcohol, stored in a safe, locked area to prevent youth from gaining access to them.
When it comes time to dispose of medications, look to your local police station or pharmacy. Many police stations have a Drop Box Drug Disposal Program, where you can dispose of any prescription drugs discreetly. The Department of Consumer Protect has a locator that you can use to find a drop box near you. Some pharmacies sell prepaid mailers to dispose of unwanted or leftover medications.
If you can’t get to a drop box, you can dispose of medications at home. In Connecticut, you can throw them away in the trash in CT, as most trash is burned at temperatures high enough to destroy any medication. When doing so, follow these instructions, and don’t forget to cross off your name or remove the label and keep the pills in the original container. It’s important to modify the medication, discouraging someone from consuming them if found. You can do this by adding a little water to pills to dissolve them partially, adding a powdered substance to liquid medications such as flour or salt, wrapping packs in duct tape or mixing the medication into kitty litter. Another option for safe disposal at home is to use Deterra bags, which use activated carbon to permanently deactivate any drug and render them useless. These bags are proven to deactivate all organic medications, including opioids. You can order these bags for free here.
Visit DrugfreeCT.org to learn more about safe storage and disposal. You can also request free materials and schedule their resource van to attend a community event.
Remember- just because a drug is a legitimate medication, it is not safe to take if it is not prescribed to you and does not come directly from a pharmacy or doctor. Additional resources on helping teens cope with stress and safe storage and disposal can be found on our website.