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By David R. Shorey, East County Program Manager, Institute for Public Strategies

October 3, 2021 (San Diego’s East County) -- When a Santee woman recently passed away while in home hospice care, her loved ones were left with a medicine chest filled with prescription drugs. The homecare professionals who had been attending their patient told the family that they could not legally remove the drugs from the home. It wasn’t until a registered nurse came by to check on the wellbeing of the woman’s husband, that the drugs were removed from the residence for proper disposal.

Hospice care represents one of many experiences families are facing with older parents. The Sandwich Generation, those who are not only raising their own children, but also are caring for their parent or parents is now a common experience. According to a Pew Research Center study, almost one in ten households with a child under 18 also cares for a parent as well. Many of them are under the same roof.

This situation presents many challenges including navigating what to do with all the medications that older adults are prescribed. While some are taken regularly with no leftovers, often pills remain in the medicine cabinet or in the bedside drawer sight-unseen. But with children in the house, unsecured medications present a potential risk of use and abuse. This is why proper medication disposal is so important.

While there are several year-round locations in East County for proper drug disposal, the Drug Enforcement Administration organizes National Prescription Drug Take Back Day twice a year in April and October to bring attention to the issue and encourage families to turn in the unwanted meds. The 21st Take Back Day is Oct. 23 this year--a Saturday--from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

There were 4,425 law enforcement agencies nationwide that hosted Take Back Day at 5,060 collection sites in April this year that took in 420 tons of drugs. East County efforts include the La Mesa and El Cajon Police Departments and the San Diego County Sheriffs in Santee, Lemon Grove and unincorporated areas. Those efforts undoubtedly prevented a lot of overdoses, deaths and hospitalizations.

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day addresses a crucial public safety and public health issue. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.7 million people misused prescription pain relievers, 4.9 million people misused prescription stimulants and 5.9 million people misused prescription tranquilizers or sedatives in 2019. The survey also showed that a majority of misused prescription drugs were obtained from family and friends, often from the home medicine cabinet. The DEA’s Take Back Day events provide an opportunity for Americans to prevent drug addiction and overdose deaths.

With so many older adults taking several prescriptions, and with physicians adding and changing medications and dosages to determine the ideal solutions, it’s essential to understand what to do with meds which are no longer needed or that have expired. Participating in Take Back Day is the preferred way to responsibly dispose of unwanted medications.

More information about how to properly dispose of unused medicines is available on the DEA Take Back Day website. Take Back locations can be found here.

Before disposing of medications, check the labels. The prescription’s label or informational literature might provide guidance about how to safely get rid of the drug. You could also consult with the pharmacist for guidelines.

Another important thing to remember when getting rid of expired or unwanted medications is to take off identifying information. Make sure to scratch out or shred any private information to safeguard the patient’s identity in order to prevent anyone who is unauthorized from discovering the prescription container and obtaining a refill of the prescribed medication. It’s easier than you might think to dispose of prescription drugs. But it might be difficult to get your head around the issue while taking care of an older loved one or grieving their death. Planning ahead can take away some of that worry.

IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive.

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