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Public pill drop in St. John's highlights importance of proper storage, disposal of prescriptions

Over 30 thousand units of medicine will be properly disposed of thanks to the Public Pill Drop event at the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary headquarters on Sunday afternoon.

At the event, people seemed to have just as many reasons for dropping off their pills.

Some people expressed concern for their children and pets as one reason to get the expired and unused medications out of the house, while others expressed concern for the environment in ensuring pills are properly disposed.

One woman hopes her reason will be an eye-opener: her daughter tried to overdose on over-the-counter medications.

The woman, who did not want to be named to protect her daughter’s privacy, said the same thing could happen to anyone.

“She’s confident, strong,” the woman said, referring to her daughter, who is in her last year of university. “Nobody would have thought.”

“It’s almost like an out-of-body experience for me to even be saying those things about my daughter. She’s strong,” the woman repeated.

“And you know, they had someone sitting down next to her on suicide watch (at the hospital). It took me a while. I thought it was an accident, I thought she was out drinking, you know, and I looked at her, and I said, ‘Did you do this on purpose?’ She said, ‘No’. But then, a couple of days, and I started to find out more information, and she told me.

“It was just pills you could buy over the counter, and stuff you’d have around your house. I mean, we always have these around the house, if anyone got a headache … but now we’re so much more aware.

“So, we just said, you know what? Let’s just get these out of the house, and whatever pills are left are kept in a Tupperware container, and it’s only what we absolutely need, and they’re kept in one space instead of just all over the (house).”

“He found a patch that she had used for pain, and put on the patch – which was a fentanyl patch – went to bed hoping that would take the pain away from his shoulder, and he never woke up the next morning because he overdosed on the fentanyl, just not knowing any better.”

–Lisa Bishop, MUN School of Pharmacy interim dean

Memorial University (MUN) pharmacy student Emily Barry also said the event is an opportunity to get people thinking about how they store and dispose of medications at home.

“One really good example would be the fentanyl patches,” she said. “Sometimes people dispose of those just in their garbage. A kid might find them, and they’re sticky, so they look like a sticker. So, they might stick them on, and then that could actually lead to fentanyl overdose, and that could cause death in small children, so that’s one extreme example. But very important.”

It may be an extreme example, but it’s something that does happen.

MUN School of Pharmacy interim dean Lisa Bishop described a similar event.

“There’s one situation where a family member, their mom passed away. Her son had all the medications from the mom, and he hurt his shoulder. So, he found a patch that she had used for pain, and put on the patch — which was a fentanyl patch — went to bed hoping that would take the pain away from his shoulder, and he never woke up the next morning because he overdosed on the fentanyl, just not knowing any better.

“So that’s a big reason why to try and get those medications out of the homes, because you never know when somebody accidentally takes something. The other big concern of course is children, because if there’s medications left around, we think it’s really benign, but then a child could accidentally take something, thinks it’s a candy, or a teenager kind of wanting to experiment, they have no idea what kind of reactions they could have.”

St. John’s resident Joe Curtis dropped off a bag of expired and unused medications. He said he never knew what to do with all of those medications until he heard about Saturday’s event.

“I never knew what to do with them, how to dispose of them…I used to throw out a dozen at a time, you know, put them in the garbage. I kind of said, that’s kind of dodgy, but it’s a small portion, so it’ll be fine...I thought of approaching the pharmacy, my own pharmacy, and asking if they’d take them back, but I thought they’d probably say no.”

Curtis said he’s now aware, thanks to the event, that he can bring medications to a pharmacy at any time to be properly disposed of.

N.L. leads country in over-prescribing opioids, other prescriptions

The School of Pharmacy also used the Public Pill Drop event to discuss other issues related to prescription drug use in the province.

Debbie Kelly is a professor and director of the Medication Therapy Services Clinic at MUN.

She said the clinic operates like a doctor’s office, but they are able to fill some gaps in health care services. For example, people can come to the clinic if they’re concerned about the number of medications they are prescribed; the clinic may be able to “clean up” the list and see if everything is still warranted.

“Sadly, we are the leaders in the country in over-prescribing of certain classes of medications,” said Kelly. “In particular, opioid pain medications and certain stomach pills called proton-pump inhibitors — drugs like Losec — we have the highest use in our seniors across the country, and sleeping pills we have the second-highest use.”

“Sleeping pills, those pills are also used to manage things like anxiety and other sorts of mental health issues…I think we talk about the difficulties in accessing the mental health system, so you need to have non-drug supports in order to adequately manage things.

“I also think we’re a little bit of a culture that feels like, ‘You know what? I’m not feeling well, I’ve got this problem, and there’s a pill that can fix it’…So, I think we need to do a better job as a system coordinating care, and making sure that prescriptions are reviewed on a regular basis, to avoid being such negative leaders, I would say, in the country.”

Related Link:

Medication Therapy Services Clinic

Twitter: @juanitamercer_

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