According to the US National Library of Medicine, around 20 percent of people over the age of 70 take five or more prescription medications, and 55 percent of the elderly are non-compliant with their prescriptions. As a result, many seniors’ medicine cabinets are filled with expired or unused drugs that could fall into the wrong hands or be improperly used. On October 23, recognized as National Prescription Take Back Day, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) hopes to collect unused, unwanted and expired prescription drugs so they can be disposed of safely.
Mike Budde, pharmacist and owner of The Medicine Shoppe in Columbia, Illinois, says there are a number of reasons to speak to seniors about medication safety and properly emptying their medicine cabinets.
“Expired medications can lose their potency, and sometimes they can become toxic,” said Budde. “It’s important for family members to help the elderly stay on top of which prescriptions they should be taking and which ones they need to get rid of.”
National Prescription Take Back Day is a great time to speak to the senior in your life about general medication safety.
Seniors can be vulnerable to theft
The possibility of dishonest friends, family members, and caregivers stealing medications from an elderly person’s home is higher than many would think. National Neighborhood Watch said older adults are an easy target for unscrupulous caregivers or family members and that most incidents of medication theft are committed by someone who has access to the home. Sadly, more than three in five teens say prescription pain relievers are easy to get from a family member’s medicine cabinet. Removing medications regularly can keep them away from those who aren’t meant to take them.
It’s easy for seniors to confuse old and new medications
Since elderly individuals don’t always adhere to doctors’ orders, they may leave older medications in the cabinet and simply add new prescriptions with the same name to the pile. This is dangerous because with age, the body undergoes changes in weight, metabolism, and excretion of drugs. A new dosage may be adjusted to reflect these changes, so taking the old one can be dangerous.
New prescriptions may be dangerous when mixed with old ones
Changes to the central nervous system and chronic illnesses come with age, all of which may require new medications. While the US National Library of Medicine recommends that doctors conduct bi-annual medication reviews for patients taking four or more drugs and annual reviews for those taking fewer, that doesn’t always happen. Budde said it’s always best to assess which drugs your loved ones have access to and get rid of any that may cause adverse effects with new prescriptions. If you’re not sure about how certain drugs will interact, ask your pharmacist.
“Not all doctors know about all the drugs a patient may be taking,” said Budde. “Especially when it comes to elderly patients who forget to write down all their medications before an appointment. A prescription for a heart condition may not mix well with a drug for migraines, so it’s just really important that family members help monitor those things as their loved ones age.”
Budde said that for his elderly customers he suggests pill boxes that designate certain medications for certain days of the week. That way, the patient or a caregiver can keep track of what needs to be taken and that all medications being put into the boxes are current.
Flushing drugs is bad for the environment
While some seniors believe that dumping prescriptions down the toilet is the responsible way to dispose of them, the truth is that drugs dissolving in the water supply can harm both humans and marine life. The DEA collection sites are places where drugs can be disposed of safely.
Help your senior get rid of old meds on October 23
When the last National Prescription Take Back Day was held this past April, the DEA collected 420 tons of prescription medications across America. Considering how many of those drugs could have been stolen or taken improperly, this medication safety event was a huge success. With enough caring family members helping their loved ones to clear out old prescriptions this October, we can help them collect even more. For a list of collection sites near you, visit the DEA’s Diversion Control Division website after October 1st.