October 28, 2023, is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. Sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), this event provides a safe and convenient way for anyone to dispose of prescription drugs while minimizing environmental risks and contamination associated with home disposal. Just as importantly, it is a fantastic opportunity to promote awareness and education around drug safety, including for injured workers, their families and everyone involved in the broader workers’ compensation system.
Guidelines for safe drug disposal
Anyone taking prescription medications should use them only as directed by their doctor or pharmacist, and always store them properly and securely. It’s also important to note that the controlled substance public disposal areas indicated for National Prescription Drug Take Back Day are available year round.
When disposing of medications, always follow these guidelines:
- Dispose of expired, unused, or discontinued medications promptly
- Take all medication according to the directions for use and report any adverse effects to your doctor or pharmacist
- To minimize environmental risks and contamination, avoid flushing unused or expired drugs down the toilet or throwing them into solid waste
- Instead, bring old and unused medications to the nearest safe disposal site
- Be sure to remove all personal information on pill bottle labels and medicine packaging
Understanding the safety and misuse risks that come with prescription drugs can help anyone, including injured patients undergoing drug therapy, increase health and safety in their homes and communities.
How unused medications create safety risks
One of the primary reasons unused medications should be disposed of as promptly as possible is to minimize the risk of exposure and accidental poisonings. In fact, medications are the current leading cause of accidental child poisonings. In the United States alone, approximately 165 children are seen in the emergency room every day because of ingesting medications they found inside the home.
While this certainly applies to prescription medications, over-the-counter medications and supplements, especially iron, can also pose a risk and should always be stored and disposed of properly. Additionally, the growing use of Melatonin as a sleep aid has led to a 570% increase in melatonin-related overdoses in the last decade.Yet another issue is a rise in unintentional ingestion of cannabis edibles due to increased legalized marijuana use.
Disposing of unused and expired medications promptly, while storing current medications and supplements in a safe location using childproof containers, can substantially decrease the danger of exposure and accidental poisonings.
Preventing misuse, abuse and diversion of prescription medications
A second key purpose of disposing of unused and expired medications is to limit opportunities for misuse and abuse. An unused medication sitting in the medicine cabinet can become a target for members of the household, visiting guests and anyone who comes inside the house. According to a 2021 report, among people aged 12 and older who misused prescription pain relievers in the past year, nearly 45% obtained pain relievers from a friend or relative in some way (i.e. being given them and buying them without asking).
A related danger is the risk of diversion and resale of unused drugs into the community and general population. The most common prescription drugs diverted into the illicit market are opioids, including hydrocodone and oxycodone.
Expired drug awareness
The safe disposal of unused and expired prescription medication plays a contributing role in ensuring safe and effective use. In workers’ compensation, general guidance strictly prohibits the use of expired medications, predominantly due to issues with toxicity from degradation and resulting impurities.
Beyond potential toxicity, expired drugs typically have a reduced effectiveness, which can present a danger in some situations. For drugs that require very close monitoring, like insulin, seizure meds and anticoagulants that prevent stroke, reduced potency can come with substantial risks. There are also medications that can cause significant consequences if they're not effective, such as birth control and anti-arrhythmic drugs, as well as rescue drugs such as inhalers and epi pens.
Finally, as medical conditions and subsequent prescriptions change, older medications can potentially contribute to confusion and administration errors. This is particularly important for patients being treated for multiple conditions.
Promoting drug safety in workers’ compensation
Everyone in the workers’ compensation industry plays a vital role in keeping injured patients safe. The myMatrixx Clinical Pharmacy Team is committed to tracking surpluses of high-risk medications and sending alerts to clients. This fosters a proactive approach to interventions that can substantially reduce misuse, abuse and diversion.
Above all, increasing drug safety requires a community approach that encourages cooperation between all parties, including prescribers, claims professionals, employers, PBMs, pharmacists, government agencies and injured patients. myMatrixx proudly supports events such as National Prescription Drug Take Back Day that encourage positive activity and raise awareness and education on drug safety.
For clients dealing with complex claims involving injured patients with multiple conditions, and medications, prescribed by various providers, myMatrixx’s clinical team provides crucial support and expertise. Proper education about medication handling and disposal is paramount in these intricate scenarios. We encourage case owners to reach out to us whenever they encounter such challenging scenarios.
In addition, we employ powerful analytics to aid case owners in identifying and addressing these complex cases. This data-driven approach is essential for ensuring not only risk reduction but also the positive progression of the patient’s treatment.
If you have additional questions, you can reach the myMatrixx clinical team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together, we can navigate these intricacies, prioritize patient safety, and contribute to improved patient outcomes.