By David Smith

"Clean up, clean up, everybody clean up..." How many of you have heard your children or grandchildren sing that catchy little tune? I'm pretty sure quite a few of you have even used it as a ploy to get those same little ones to pick up their toys.
Springtime always seems to sing the "Clean Up" song to us as the nights get shorter and the days get longer and warmer. There's just something about it that stimulates us to clean out closets (which my wife and I spent almost all of last week doing, by the way) dust the blinds and fan blades, trim the shrubs and tree limbs, de-thatch the lawn and mulch the flower beds. And, after the stiffness and sore muscles get better, we give ourselves a nice pat on the back for a job well done.
Sadly, I'd bet most of us have missed a very critical area that we reach into practically every day and never give a serious thought to cleaning out - the medicine cabinet. I took a quick glance at ours and was rather embarrassed. There. I've confessed - and they say confession is good for the soul. So, what's the big deal about out-of-date medications and just how does one go about disposing of them properly? Here's a quick rundown for you.
Just so you know, the FDA standards for drug products state that the active ingredient must be present in 90% to 110% of the amount indicated on the label, and the truth is that many medications are still perfectly good after their published expiration date. There is no magic switch in the tablet, capsule or liquid that turns off at that exact date.
However, there are simply too many variables that can affect stability even before the published expiration date to push that very far. Some of the more important factors are exposure to humidity, light, high temperatures and containers that do not seal properly. Also, there are quite a few commonly prescribed medications that are potentially hazardous when used beyond expiration date - anticonvulsants, warfarin, digoxin, nitroglycerin, thyroid preparations and oral contraceptives to name a few.
Another problem we, as pharmacists, run into routinely is that of unfinished prescription medications. I'd wager that better than half of all antibiotic prescriptions are never completed. People start feeling better, and the last three or four days worth of therapy are stored and used inappropriately at a later time. I could write another compete article on the hazards of this practice.
Also, an alarming quantity of legally-prescribed, but illegally-used medications is taken from medicine cabinets of parents or grandparents and sold on the street - yet another good article topic. Make sure that you store ALL of your medications in a secure place.
So how do we get rid of those products in a safe, environmentally-friendly manner? It is perfectly acceptable to crush the tablets and capsules and mix them, along with unused liquid preparations with coffee grounds, kitty litter, sawdust, etc., and put them into a sealed plastic container. This can be thrown out with your regular trash and safely buried at the landfill.
However, a much better option is to call your local pharmacist and arrange to have a "brown bag" session with him or her. Bring all of your medications - prescriptions and OTCs - including those you are currently taking to the pharmacy. Let the pharmacist sit down and go through everything with you. Most pharmacies will gladly take any out-of-date or unused products and dispose of them for you. Plus you'll gain valuable insight on your entire medication regimen.
I have personally conducted several of these and, without fail, the person always has a greater understanding of their meds after our session. It's amazing how many medications people bring in and have no clue about why they are taking them.
At Smith Family Pharmacy, we offer this as a free service and welcome anyone, whether they are our regular customer or not, to participate in our "brown bag" program.
Give David or Blake a call today at 501-336-8188 and let us schedule a time to help you with this or any of your medication needs.