Healthwatch 16: Clean Out the Medicine Cabinet

GEISINGER MEDICAL CENTER -- Since you may be in the middle of spring cleaning your house or your closets, authorities are urging you to clean out that medicine cabinet as well.

How often do you really look inside your medicine cabinet? Lorraine Tusing guesses not often.

"Everybody, go look in your cabinet. You have stuff in there that's probably 10 years old," said Tusing.

Tusing is project manager of the med take-back program for Geisinger Health System. The program is exactly what it sounds like.

"Historically, there has been a med take-back day for law enforcement twice a year to collect medication. What we want is for this to be a continuous collection, where people can come at their convenience, when they come in for new medicine or when they clean out their medicine cabinet," Tusing said.

Tusing says back in the fall of 2015, federal regulations changed to allow the collection of narcotics and controlled substances at approved sites, such as pharmacies, hospitals, and law enforcement.

Geisinger got to work setting up boxes and there are now 38 boxes in 15 counties at various locations. Since the med take-back program began, they've collected more than 18,000 pounds of unused medications and disposed of them properly.

"Nobody's looking at it. You don't have to be a Geisinger patient, you don't have to be a customer of the pharmacy, you just bring it in, and it's like a mailbox, you just drop it in."

Given the crisis of the opioid epidemic, med take-back boxes help reduce access to the drugs. And there's also an environmental component; disposing of medication properly helps to keep it from contaminating soil and water, both risks if you toss it in the trash or flush it down the toilet.

Pharmacist Jenny Plummer, director of CareSite Pharmacy, reminds us this applies to over-the-counter drugs as well.

Now might be a good time to check those expiration dates.

"Anything packaged by our pharmacy or any pharmacy should have an expiration date on the label. A good tool is about a year from date of dispense. That's a good time to go through the medicine cabinet," Plummer advised.

You can get more information about med take-back boxes, such as locations or what you can or can't put in them, at the Geisinger Medication Take-Back Program website.

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