Health Column: Clean out that medicine cabinet

Perhaps it’s a leftover painkiller from recent dental work or a magical stress reliever saved for a future airplane ride.

Or maybe you just didn’t know what to do with it all.

October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, a good time to take five minutes to check out your household’s stock of prescription medications and get rid of what’s no longer needed. You’d be surprised by what you might find.

Disposing of leftover prescriptions has become more convenient. Drop-off boxes, set up through an initiative of Group for the East End, are now in place at the Riverhead, Southold and Southampton town police departments. Since they were installed, which began last October, nearly a ton of unwanted drugs has been collected in those boxes, which are also in other police departments across the East End.

In the near future, drop boxes will also pop up at local hospitals and pharmacies, as well, thanks to an amendment to federal law last week by the Drug Enforcement Administration that now permits interested pharmacies and hospitals to offer collection receptacles.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States, especially among teens.

More people die from prescription drug overdoses than from all illegal drugs combined, according to the agency. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population has abused prescription drugs.

Felicia Scocozza, executive director of the Riverhead Community Awareness Program explained that unnecessary prescription stocks only contribute to abuse.

“Each day more than 2,000 teens use prescription drugs to get high for the first time,” she said, citing CDC findings. “And the most common place they get them is their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinet.”

Prescription drug abuse can often lead to heroin use, as heroin is much cheaper to buy than illegal prescription drugs, said special agent Erin Mulvey, a DEA spokeswoman.

“On the street, prescription drugs sell for $1 per milligram,” she explained. “Hydrocodone, for example, is often prescribed in a 30-milligram dose per pill.

“So each pill would be $30 dollars, in comparison to a [bag] of heroin which is between $8 and $10 in the city, and up to $20 in Long Island,” Ms. Mulvey said.

At those prices, a parent’s drug cabinet can seem like a gold mine to a teen earning minimum wage, Ms. Mulvey said.

When cleaning out your medicine chest, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence recommends you keep an eye out for commonly abused drugs: pain relievers like hydrocodone or Vicodin and oxycodone; tranquilizers including Xanax, Valium and sedatives; and stimulants, such as Ritalin, Adderall and Dexedrine.

At the very least, Ms. Scocozza recommends taking an inventory of the household’s medication stock and placing that medication under lock and key.

“I’m not sure that all kids go into their parents’ drug cabinets, but is normal to be curious as a teen,” she said. “Disposing of your unneeded medication can help to reduce crime and keep our kids safe.”

Miller_HeadshotGot a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at [email protected].