6 ways to protect children from expired and leftover medicines

Nearly half of parents say they have leftover prescription medications at home, according to the survey results.

“We found that it’s common for parents to store medications long after they expire or are no longer needed, creating an unnecessary risk to children’s health,” says Sarah Clark, co-director of the CS National Survey of Children’s Health. Mott Children’s Hospital at University of Michigan Health.

“Younger children receiving medication at home are a major source of unintentional poisoning. For older children, access to these medications carries the risk of experimentation, diversion to peers, or other intentional misuse.”

The nationally representative survey was based on 2,023 responses from parents of children under the age of 18 who responded to the survey between August and September 2022.

expired medication

Fewer than half of parents believe that over-the-counter medications are less effective after their expiration date, while one in five parents thinks that it is not safe.

“Parents may not realize the medication is expired until they need it to treat their child’s symptoms,” says Clark. “At that point, parents must decide whether to give their child the expired medication or go out and buy a new medication.”

More than a third of parents say it’s never okay to give their child expired medicine. But one in three parents think it’s okay to do it up to three months after the due date, and about the same number say it’s okay after six months or more.

“The expiration date is the manufacturer’s guarantee that a drug is totally safe and effective; over time, the drug will lose its effectiveness,” says Clark. “Parents considering giving their child a medication long after its expiration date should ask themselves how well it will work.”

More than three in five parents say they are more careful about disposing of leftover prescription medications than over-the-counter medications. Most also believe it is important to properly dispose of expired or leftover medications to prevent children from coming into contact with medications and to protect the environment.

Still, many parents struggle to know how to get rid of it. Nearly three-quarters say they don’t know which medications should be mixed with coffee grounds or kitty litter, and one in seven have flushed medication down the toilet.

The safest option, Clark says, is to drop off medications at a permanent collection site at a doctor’s office, pharmacy or hospital, or at a community site in conjunction with the Control Administration’s twice-yearly national drug take-back day. US Drug Enforcement

“Unused and expired medications are a public safety issue and pose health risks to children,” says Clark. “It is important that parents dispose of them properly when they are no longer needed to reduce the risks of children getting sick, as well as the negative impact on the environment.”

6 ways to keep children safe

  1. Limit the amount of medicine you bring home. Avoid buying over-the-counter medications in larger amounts than your family needs. For medications prescribed for “as needed” use, such as pain relievers, consider filling only part of the prescription and returning to the pharmacy for additional doses only if needed.
  2. Keep prescription and over-the-counter medications in their original packaging that includes dosage and expiration information. Check the expiration dates on your child’s over-the-counter medications twice a year, especially before allergy and/or flu season.
  3. Block or at least control certain medications that can be misused, including pain relievers and sleeping pills, especially if there are older children in the home.
  4. Safely dispose of unused or expired medications by dropping them off at a permanent collection site (such as a local hospital, pharmacy, or doctor’s office) or at a regular take-back event. Some pharmacies also have mail-back options.
  5. If you are unable to return the medication to a collection site, a secondary option is to dispose of it in household waste. The medication should be in a plastic bag, dissolved with water, and mixed with kitty litter or coffee grounds so that it is unattractive to children or pets. Sealing the bag will prevent the medication from spilling.
  6. Avoid flushing expired or unused medications down the toilet or sink, which can cause medications to enter the water supply and expose residents to chemicals in drinking water.

Source: University of Michigan

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