Educating patients on safe storage and disposal

Norton Healthcare

Providers should have a conversation with patients and parents/caregivers about safeguarding medications.

All medications, including over-the-counter, herbal supplements and vitamins, should be stored out of the reach of children and locked up if possible.

“It’s a simple, short conversation,” said Ashley N. Webb, Pharm.D., a board-certified clinical toxicologist and director of the Kentucky Poison Control Center of Norton Children’s Hospital.

“We don’t stress it enough. People get lax with their medications and don’t realize the things they have are as toxic as they are.”

A useful word of caution to patients and parents/caregivers: Avoid taking medications in front of young children. If it’s something parents do every day and appears harmless, kids may mimic the behavior and take the medication themselves or give the medication to siblings.

This same caution applies to older siblings who might be taking allergy or other medications in front of a younger brother or sister.

The bottom line is parents and caregivers should keep prescriptions and other medications as secure as liquor or guns.

Safeguarding medications is an issue for most households. A 2017 Consumer Reports survey found 55% of people in the U.S. regularly take prescription medicine.

A survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that in 2017, more than 50% of people who misuse opioid medications obtained them most recently from a friend or family member. Properly disposing of prescription pain medications when they are no longer needed is an easy way to reduce the risk of someone accessing the medication inappropriately.

Kentucky offers multiple drop-off locations for unused medication. If a drop-off location is not convenient, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) provides recommendations for safely disposing of medications at home. While there is an effort to reduce the amount of prescription drugs that end up in the water supply, the FDA still recommends flushing prescription pain medications down the toilet (including fentanyl patches) to avoid the risk they will be accessed by another person or animal.

A common misconception is that over-the-counter medications are safer than they really are, according to Ashley. Overdoses of acetaminophen requiring medical treatment are one of the top causes of poisoning in adults and children.

The Kentucky Poison Control Center handles all poisoning calls for the commonwealth. In addition to triage and management of potential poisoning, if you or your patients have questions about safe opioid prescribing, managing opioid withdrawal, properly disposing of medications or locating a disposal site, call the poison control center tollfree at (800) 222-1222. The line is staffed 24 hours every day by nurses and pharmacists with training in toxicology. There is no direct charge to the public. Health care providers may request a consultation with a board-certified medical toxicologist at any time. Providers also can order educational materials for their offices at

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