The end of summer is always a great time for caregivers and seniors to go through and see if they have any medications that should be thrown away because they are too old or no longer taken. On bottles of prescription medications, the label will most often tell you when the medication needs to be discarded using an expiration date. When you are looking for the expiration date on over-the-counter medications or sample medications, it is often printed on the label under “EXP,” or it may be stamped into the bottom or side of the bottle, carton or the crimp of the tube. For medications that have no expiration date, it is best to throw the bottle out unless you know when it was purchased.
As time goes by, medications may end up losing their potency, especially if they are kept in a warm, moist bathroom cabinet. In some rare instances, outdated medications can become toxic to seniors. For example, taking tetracycline after the expiration date can cause serious kidney problems.
In the past, most seniors were told to simply flush their old medicines down the toilet. This was so children or animals would not find the medication in the trash. Today however, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not recommend this practice. The main reason for the change in practice is that sewage plants are often not able to clean all traces of medication out of the water. This can cause serious harm to fish and wildlife.
So, what can caregivers do to help seniors with their old medicine? The following three steps are able to make a huge difference:
- Don’t flush. Although many seniors were told in the past to flush their medication down the toilet, this is no longer suggested.
- Caregivers need to crush solid medications or dissolve them in warm water, then mix them with kitty litter or some similar material that absorbs the dissolved medication and makes it less appealing to pets or kids to eat. Once mixed, place in a sealed plastic bag and place in trash.
- Caregivers or seniors are encouraged to destroy all identification/personal information that is printed on the prescription labels.
- Check to see if there are any approved local or state medication collection programs. In some areas, caregivers may be able to take unused medications to a community pharmacy for disposal as well.