At a safe pill drop event in St. John’s last weekend, the interim dean of Memorial University’s school of pharmacy told a chilling story that drove home the message of why it’s so important to dispose of medications properly.
Lisa Bishop recounted a real-life episode of a man who hurt his shoulder and decided to use a pain patch that was among his recently deceased mother’s medications.
The patch was fentanyl. The man put it on, went to bed and never woke up.
It’s a strong reminder to anyone who has medications lying around the house about the dangers they can pose.
And not just to unwitting family members taking something to numb pain from an injury, or toddlers mistaking them for harmless stickers or candy.
According to Drug Free Kids Canada, of the 51 per cent of households that have prescription drugs that can be abused, only 11 per cent keep them in a safe place, and out of the hands of curious children or experimenting teens.
And teens are experimenting.
A 2014 article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, “Unused prescription drugs should not be treated like leftovers” paints a stark picture of what can happen when medications are left within easy reach.
“Unused prescription drugs are sometimes brought to ‘pill parties’ (also called ‘pharm’ or ‘Skittles’ parties), where adolescents experiment with pills they select from the pool of medications brought by partygoers. With opioids in particular, some products contain enough active ingredient in a single tablet to cause death in a naive patient, especially if mixed with other sedatives or alcohol.”
Opioids are among the medications posing the greatest concern, since they are powerful, powerfully addictive and widely prescribed.
In Canada, while the quantity of opioids prescribed declined by 4.6 per cent from 2012-1016, the number of opioid prescriptions handed out actually increased by 8.9 per cent.
And while some provinces are making strides in decreasing opioid use, particularly British Columbia and Nova Scotia, other provinces have seen less success.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Albertans and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians had the highest average daily doses of opioid from 2012-2016, exceeding the national average of 6,110 per 1,000 people,
There are many good reasons to make sure all unused medications — and not just opioids — are kept out of the hands of family members, as well as out of landfills, oceans and water supplies, where they can be ingested by animals and fish. That goes for over-the-counter remedies and natural health products, as well.
Most pharmacies will accept your unwanted medications and safely dispose of them for you.
And until you get rid of them? You might just want to keep them under lock and key.