By: Amanda Winslow, PharmD, BCPS
When is the last time you checked the expiration dates on the medications in your home? As a pharmacist, you might be privy enough to assess them regularly. However, most patients are not. National Drug Takeback Day is an excellent time to remind our patients to check their medications on an annual basis. The event was initially founded by the DEA in order to combat misuse of prescription medications, which is a crucial public safety and public health issue. All expired medications and/or medications no longer being used should be disposed of. See below for several reasons to clear out old medications.
Efficacy: The efficacy of expired medications is typically reduced. Meaning if a patient takes an old blood pressure medication, they may not be fully controlling their blood pressure, which could become dangerous.
Contamination: Liquid medications (especially aqueous solutions) or items that could possibly come into contact with your body (like eyedrops, eardrops or nose sprays) could potentially become contaminated with bacteria, so it is important to educate patients not to reuse them. They should be disposed of/sequestered after the initial course is completed.
Diversion: According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the majority of misused prescription drugs are obtained from friends or family. This diversion can lead to overdose and even death. Remind patients to dispose of any leftover pain medications they may have from previous surgeries. If they have a new surgery, they can discuss getting a new prescription, if needed.
Antibiotic Resistance: Leftover antibiotics have their own risks. Antibiotic resistance is a growing public health concern and taking incorrect antibiotics or less than a full course of antibiotics both contribute to that issue. Always remind your patients to take antibiotics until they are gone, or to dispose of the rest of the course if a doctor switches their medication.
Drug-Drug Interactions: If a patient or their family member takes an expired or leftover medication, there is no way for their doctor or pharmacist to check it against their other medications. This increases the risk for therapeutic duplications or drug-drug interactions, which can cause adverse events.
Safety: With old medications, it would be difficult to trace them for issues like recalls. This includes lot level recalls as well as drugs recalled off the market entirely for safety reasons. There is no way to inform patients of the danger if they do not have a current prescription for that medication.
The next Drug Takeback Day is October 23, 2021. Encourage your patients to check the expiration dates on both OTC (over the counter) and prescription medications and dispose of them as appropriate. To find a disposal site near you visit the DEA website and enter your location information.