This article originally appeared in the Aug. 20, 2009 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Even with the kids heading back to school, you can expect to enjoy several more garage sale weekends before cold weather is upon us. These sales yield fun, finds and the occasional treasure. But they can also bring danger, in the form of discarded prescription items or over-the-counter medications.
This is especially true at estate sales, where medications may remain in purses, pockets of clothing, briefcases, luggage or other containers. Some buyers come looking for prescription medications to abuse, while others may simply buy an item without knowing there are drugs inside. Later, however, children may find the medication and be injured by swallowing it.
The Missouri Regional Poison Center, a program of SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, handles poison exposures for both children and adults. The hotline received more than 194,000 calls last year.
“We frequently get calls about prescription and over-the-counter medications," says Peggy Kinamore, Public Education Coordinator at the poison center. “Unintentional ingestion as well as intentional misuse and abuse of prescription medications are increasing, and we find that very alarming.”
Poison exposures can result, Kinamore explains, when people take a medication that is not intended for them, they mix medications, or they take too much of a medication. Poisonings and drug overdoses are a leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths. Proper disposal of expired or unneeded prescription medications can help to prevent poisonings. Here are some disposal tips from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov):
· 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.
· If no instructions are given, throw the drugs in the household trash, but first:
o Take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. The medication will be less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.
o Put them in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
· When in doubt, ask your pharmacist for disposal recommendations.
If poisoning or medication misuse occurs, call the Missouri Regional Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 for free, expert treatment advice.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.