Prescription medications can help people feel better in so many ways, but they can also be dangerous. Many pain pills, anti-anxiety medications, stimulants, and even some muscle relaxants can be addictive, which is part of the reason the federal government categorizes them as “controlled substances.”
I tell my patients that their bottle of unused Vicodin or OxyContin can be incredibly harmful in the wrong hands, so they need to keep it safe and dispose of it appropriately. Unfortunately, these medications have street value and are a lure for people looking for a high.
Making controlled substances harder to steal helps prevent tragedies. A common trend in recent years among teens is to have pill parties. Young people bring whatever pills they can find and put them in a big bowl. Then they grab a few and ingest them (usually with alcohol). As a nurse, this terrifies me. Kids could be allergic to the medications and not know it, or the medications could be deadly in combination with each other. Because the teens don’t know what’s in their system, even with emergency medical attention, the treatment isn’t always fast enough to save them.
If you have controlled substances in your house, do not keep them in an unlocked medicine cabinet or in your underwear drawer: these are the first places people who want to steal drugs will look. Keep the medications under lock and key in a place people would not think to look.
You may think, “No one comes into my bathroom, so why does it matter?” or “My grandson would never steal from me.”
Be aware that if you have a yard sale or a garage sale and someone asks to use your bathroom, they could be looking for drugs. And you wouldn’t be the first to be surprised and disappointed by a dishonest relative.
The Arbor on Main provides free medication bags with locks. They are canvas, and could therefore be cut with scissors, but at least you’d notice right away if your bag had been tampered with.
Whether people use medications for recreation or for medical reasons, controlled substances can have serious side effects. Simply because a doctor prescribes a medication for you doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong. Some people are more sensitive than others; others have allergies (or can develop them). If you follow your doctor’s instructions but you don’t feel right, tell your doctor. He or she will know whether your side effects are to be expected, or whether they may indicate your body’s inability to tolerate the drug.
Also, please pay attention to labels that warn about operating heavy equipment. Getting behind the wheel of a car while under the influence of any drug can put lives at risk. You can get a ticket for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) if you are impaired because of a prescription, just like you can for drinking too much alcohol or using illicit drugs.
To reduce the risk of inappropriate medication use, it is important to discard unused medication properly (as well as any needles used to administer them). Do not simply throw them in the trash or flush them down the toilet.
For needles (also called sharps), put them in a rinsed bleach bottle or similar laundry detergent bottle and tape the lid on; then write SHARPS on the container. For pills, empty them into a clear plastic re-sealable bag with no identifying information. For liquids, remove all identifying information from the container.
Once the controlled substances are prepared, you can take them to a safe medicine disposal site. The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office in Ukiah or Willits accepts pills. The HazMobile collection site at 3200 Taylor Drive in Ukiah accepts pills, liquids and sharps. The HazMobile hours are 8:00 am – 2:00 pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, as well as the second Saturday of the month. Call 707-468-9704 for details.
Elise Wilkins, RN, is the Nurse Case Manager for the Chronic Pain and Opioid Dependence Treatment Programs at MCHC Health Centers, a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.