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Editorial: Time to dispose of prescription drugs from home

October is Medicine Abuse Awareness Month and also fall clean-up time for many Minnesota households. That makes it a good time for families to check their medicine cabinets for unused or unwanted prescription drugs and over-the-counter cough medicines.

“Just by keeping these drugs in your household, you could unknowingly be providing easy access to one of the fastest growing categories of abused substances,” said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. “Prescription drug abuse is rising rapidly, especially among teens. When abused, prescription drugs can be just as dangerous as illicit drugs and often act as gateway drugs to heroin.”

Countering abuse of prescription drugs is a priority of the State Substance Abuse Strategy being implemented by the Department of Human Services, the departments of Health, Public Safety, Corrections, Education and other agencies as well as the State Judicial Board, Minnesota National Guard/ Department of Military Affairs, Minnesota Board of Pharmacy and the Minnesota Health Professional Services Program.

The magnitude of heroin and opiate abuse across Minnesota is at its highest level ever. Addiction treatment admissions for heroin and other opiates accounted for 20 percent of all treatment admissions in the Twin Cities in 2012, second only to alcohol admissions, according to DHS research.

The Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, which promotes Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, reports that prescription drug abuse nationally among teens 12 and older increased 20 percent since 2002 and that 5 percent of teens nationally report abusing over-the-counter cough medicine to get high over the last year.

Jesson said prescription drugs can be easy to get, often from family or friends for free or by visitors using home bathrooms.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers these guidelines for drug disposal:

n Follow any specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that accompanies the medication. Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.

n Take advantage of community drug take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal.

n Contact your local law enforcement agencies about medicine collection programs. Hennepin and Ramsey counties, for example, each have year-round collection sites.

n If no instructions are given on the drug label and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in the household trash but first: Take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. This mixture will be less appealing to children and pets and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash. Put the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage can.

n When in doubt about proper disposal, talk to your pharmacist.

Along with getting rid of unused medication, it’s important to talk to children, family and friends about the dangers of using medicine prescribed to another person.

Drugs most often abused are:

n Painkillers: Vicodin, Tylenol with codeine, OxyContin, Percocet.

n Depressants: Xanax, Valium, Nembutal.

n Stimulants: Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta.

n Over-the-counter: Cough medicines.