Handling drugs safely at home

Spring is bringing a perfect storm of assaults on the upper respiratory system. A late peak of the flu season, an early arrival of allergy season and seesaw weather patterns are combining to send millions to the pharmacy.

Spring is bringing a perfect storm of assaults on the upper respiratory system.

A late peak of the flu season, an early arrival of allergy season and seesaw weather patterns are combining to send millions to the pharmacy.

With all those prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs coming into the house, experts say parents, pet owners and the rest of us may need to put a little extra thought into how we handle, store and dispose of medicines.

“It’s normal and natural for children to be curious about any bag that comes into the house.

“Whether it’s a shopping bag, a purse or a guest’s overnight bag, they know it might contain surprises like cookies or candy, so they want to look inside them,” Barb Dehn, a San Francisco-based nurse practitioner and health educator who has worked with drugmakers to create patient-safety guidelines, said in an interview.

Pediatric researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Boston reported last fall that 30 per cent of acetaminophen found in homes with young children (ages 2-6) — out of the 24 homes studied — was stored unsafely.

And a total of 22 per cent of the drugs found in these homes were unsafely stored. Nearly all the homes had at least one expired medication on the shelf.

One of the more dangerous times for kids — and pets — is when people first come into the house and drop shopping and personal bags on the floor or bench for “just a few” while taking off their coat or checking phone messages.

“Put the medicines away first thing,’’ Dehn said.

“With pets, dogs in particular, they’ll chew through anything that smells meaty or like food — and whatever else might be with it”

Other threats can arise in multi-generational households when seniors leave brightly coloured — and easy-open — pillboxes out on tables or counters.

“Kids are used to finding toys or crafts inside those little containers, and they’ll grab them and investigate,’’ Dehn said.

Among pre-teens and teens, the risks can shift from not recognizing medicine to knowing just what they are, snagging pain and other pills for illicit use.

“If you have any concerns that someone in your family, or their friends, might abuse something in the medicine chest, it should either be in a locked place or stored up and out of the way, someplace not easy to find,’’ the educator said.

A few other tips:

• Use child-resistant caps, but don’t rely on them — most kids will eventually figure out a way to open these containers;

• Keep medicines in their original containers;

• Put drugs back after each use and be careful about dropping bottles or leaving meds out if the phone or doorbell rings;

• Get rid of the old stuff.

The American Medical Association last week launched a safety campaign urging people to give their medicine chests a checkup, making sure that what’s needed is up-to-date and throwing out expired or unneeded products.

New AMA guidelines stress that the best way to dispose of unused medicine is at a pharmacy collection site. Many drugstores have them.

But if you must throw drugs out as part of the household trash, make them as nasty and unpalatable as possible by mixing them with coffee grounds, cooking oil or kitty litter and placing them in a sealed plastic bag. Remove labels from bottles before disposing of them.

For more information about buying, storing and disposing of meds, check out:

http://www.getreliefresponsibly.com/safely/children.php

http://www.ama-assn.org/resources/doc/patient-safety/medication-safety-disposal.pdf

Lee Bowman is a health and science writer for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact Bowman at BowmanL@shns.com