Every home has one hidden behind a vanity mirror in the bathroom or in a little-used corner of the kitchen. Medicine cabinets are the repository of prescription and over-the-counter medications, many of which may be past their expiration dates or period of usefulness. Typically left unsecured, the contents of medicine cabinets pose many dangers to children and adults alike.
The U.S. National Safety Council reports that poisoning is the leading cause of death in adults in the 30 to 40 age group, about half of which can be attributed to overdose and improper use of prescription medication. The American Association of Poison Control Centers show that incidence of poisoning in children declined by 50 percent between 1979 and 2006, but this encouraging statistic is dampened by the fact that more children died from medication overdose or improper use. The increase was almost two-fold from 36 to 64 percent, translating to a daily rate of 165 children brought to emergency facilities due to medication problems. Most of these incidents are preventable:In 95 percent of these cases, children gained access to medication when left unsupervised.
Organizing the Medicine Cabinet
Keeping the medicine cabinet organized requires a system of classifying and tracking contents. Some households may find that organizing medications by user makes the most sense. Label clear plastic bins, and assign one user to a box. Transfer any discontinued and expired medications to a box labeled discard or destroy.
Non-prescription medication may be organized by use, separating cold and cough formula from headache tablets and gastric distress remedies. For safety’s sake, separate children’s formulations from adult OTC drugs. If possible, children’s medications should be kept in a separate area from adults’ medications because it is too easy to make mistakes under stress.
The American Medical Association also cautions that in households where one or more residents take prescription drugs for chronic conditions, it may help to have a list of these medications and the recommended dosing schedule attached to the storage bin or the door of the medicine cabinet. The situation becomes more complicated when patients see different specialists for various conditions. Keep the medication list updated to have a ready and reliable reference in case someone in the home exhibits adverse reactions to their medications.
Ensure that containers are child proof, and lock up prescription drugs when possible. Many types of medication are temperature and light sensitive. Medicine cabinets located in warm and humid bathrooms or kitchens may not be the best places to store prescription and OTC medications. For optimum storage conditions, refer to the label or any instructions that came with the medicine.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration provides specific instructions for disposal of prescription and OTC medication. To minimize contamination of the aquifer with potentially toxic chemicals, the FDA recommends turning in unused medication to local medicine take-back programs managed by local governments and health institutions. For national take-back programs, refer to the Drug Enforcement Administration website.
The FDA also lists prescription drugs that can be disposed with the household trash provided they are mixed with inedible materials, such as kitty litter, and sealed in a container. These drugs should not be crushed to prevent ground contamination.
Medications that are on FDA’s list of flushable drugs should be processed according to the guidelines provided and in accordance with local laws. Some of these medications can be very toxic to young children and pets, making it important to dispose of them quickly and judiciously.