CANADA – August is national drug drop-off month, an occasion to clean out old medications from one’s medicine cabinet and improve the safety of households everywhere.
“We encourage people to open up their medicine cabinets, see what they have, check expiry dates on their medications and bring them back to their local pharmacy for safe disposal,” said Naushin Hooda, a doctor of pharmacy student at the University of Waterloo who is completing a placement at Manitoulin Health Centre’s Little Current site.
“Because of the increased use of prescription and non-prescription medications, it’s an increasing issue that’s only going to get bigger so awareness of it is important,” she added.
While medications have many life-saving properties, those that are expired or no longer needed must be safely discarded. In past, disposal methods have included flushing old drugs down a toilet or tossing them in the trash, but this leads to higher concentrations of pharmaceuticals in the natural environment and can cause many harmful effects.
Pharmacies run take-back programs for any medications, whether purchased at their location or not, and will collect and safely dispose of these items. They accept these year-round, but this special month serves as a reminder to those who may not have the issue on their mind.
“That’s why there’s a month dedicated to it, where different organizations will voice their support of it and remind people to empty their cabinets. Hopefully they get rid of them once a year, but more frequently is better,” said Ms. Hooda. “It’s a reminder to open your medicine cabinet, make sure you get rid of what you don’t need and that those are safely disposed of.”
The no-questions-asked process is simple—bring the old medications to any pharmacy, speak with a staff member working behind the pharmaceutical counter and they will take care of the rest. Accepted products also include inhalers, creams and ointments. This is a process that should be completed after a family member passes and leaves medications behind.
Prescription drug abuse is a problem in Canada. After alcohol and cannabis, psychoactive pharmaceuticals are the most-often used substance by Canadian students from Grades 7 to 12, based on a 2014 study. In Ontario, a one-year study revealed that one in seven high school students reported using a prescription drug for a non-medical purpose. These drugs tend to be easy to access and may carry a false sense of safety because they originate from a medical professional.
However, when pharmaceuticals are used by people for whom they had not been prescribed, or in quantities that exceed safe limits, these can lead to overdoses and long-term health problems.
“If you’re not disposing of medications that you’re not using yourself, you’re not just putting yourself at risk, you’re putting your whole household at risk. There’s a lot of implications of having unused medicines in your home that people don’t really think about,” said Ms. Hooda.
Drug Free Kids Canada, a private sector non-profit agency that aims to reduce drug abuse in Canada through education, has launched an ad campaign this year advocating for the importance of dropping off old drugs. It features ‘the pill fairy,’ a take-off of the tooth fairy who collects old medications.
This is the second year that Drug Free Kids Canada has led the national drug drop-off month charge. In 2017, before the campaign started, Canadian pharmacies gathered 725 tonnes of unused and expired medication. Last year, the first year of the campaign, that number jumped 14 percent to 828 tonnes.
“Police officers in all corners of this country have seen the devastating impact of the misuse of prescription drugs. We can all play a part in preventing this misuse and in keeping these drugs out of the hands of kids,” stated Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police president Chief Constable Adam Palmer in a release.
“Get involved and help safeguard family members, public workers and the environment. Pharmacists are providing this important community service and helping us ensure the proper disposal of your products,” added Health Products Stewardship Association director general Ginette Vanasse.
More information about the program can be found at ReturnYourMeds.ca. Anyone seeking support with addictions and mental health in Ontario are welcome to call the ConnexOntario hotline at 1-866-531-2600.