NEWS | Feb. 8, 2012

Reusing or sharing prescription medications? Don't risk it!

By Capt. Francisco Boral, 99th Medical Support Squadron

Have you checked your medicine cabinet lately? You may have unwanted antibiotics from a recent infection, surplus pain medication from when you had your wisdom teeth removed or extra sleeping pills from a recent bout of insomnia.

There are several reasons you may have leftover medications: you may have felt better and stopped your antibiotics early, which is never a good idea; your pain may have stopped and left you with extra tablets or your problem may be seasonal, like certain allergies.

When you have leftover medications, you should never take them the next time you feel sick, share them with a sick friend or flush them down a toilet. These actions can lead to potential misuse or abuse. Prescription drug misuse and abuse is occurring more and more and it happens when someone intentionally takes a prescription medication in a way other than as prescribed.

According to the 2009 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than seven million Americans currently abuse prescription drugs. A common misconception is that prescription drugs are safe under any circumstance because a doctor assigns them to us. The truth is that, while prescription medications can play an important role in our overall health, they also can have serious health risks when misused or abused.

So what's really wrong with taking leftover medications? A medication is prescribed for a specific condition. For example, specific antibiotics are effective against particular bacterial infections. That leftover antibiotic may not be effective against a new infection. In fact, taking an antibiotic for less than its full course of therapy may cause bacteria to become resistant and more difficult to treat.

Sharing leftover prescription drugs with friends or family members also may have dangerous consequences. The shared medication may interact with your friend's current medications or an underlying medical condition, the dose may be wrong for your friend's body size or weight, or a serious side effect or allergic reaction may develop. Sharing medications bypasses simple safety checks that doctors and pharmacists perform to prevent these types of occurrences.

Sharing prescription medication not only is dangerous to your health, in some cases it is illegal. The Air Force's policy on drug abuse applies to the use of illicit drugs and to the wrongful use and distribution of controlled prescription medications. Controlled substances are prescription drugs with a potential for abuse that can lead to addiction and dependence.

Have you ever noticed a warning label on your prescription that says "CAUTION: Federal law prohibits the transfer of this drug to any person other than the patient for whom it was prescribed?" This shows that it is a crime to share, possess or use someone else's controlled medications. This act is punishable under Article 112a of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Wrongful use of medications may result in forfeiture of pay, loss of rank, dishonorable discharge or confinement.

To dispose of your medications, do not flush them down a toilet or put them down a sink. Only a few select medications with a high potential for abuse have been recommended by the Food and Drug Administration for flushing. You may refer to the FDA website or check with the pharmacy for a complete list of approved medications for flushing. For medications not recommended for flushing by the FDA, contact your local trash and recycling service if a drug take-back collection program is available or check with local law enforcement stations for the location of drug disposal boxes and sites.

Having unused or expired prescription medications in the house increases the risk of misuse and abuse. Help safeguard your family's health and your career by disposing of unused prescription medications appropriately. Prescription misuse and abuse is not only dangerous, but it is also incompatible with the Air Force way of life.

The Drug Enforcement Administration sponsors a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day campaign every six months and provides venues to safely dispose of expired, unused or unwanted prescription medications. The Joint Base Charleston Drug Demand Reduction Office is planning to participate in the next event tentatively scheduled for April 28. We'll provide more information as it becomes available.