Is your medicine cabinet safe?

LOS ANGELES We keep all our medicines in one place in case of emergency, but if you're not careful something in your medicine cabinet could land you in the ER.

"There are certain medicines that we worry about," said Dr. Thomas Horowitz from Good Samaritan Hospital.

If you peeked inside Kristina Jones' medicine cabinet you'd find she keeps it stocked with lots of over-the-counter medications.

While Kristina is a stickler for expiration dates, the head of family medicine at Good Samaritan Hospital says many people don't realize that pain relievers lose about one percent of its effectiveness every week you keep it.

Aspirin products breakdown over time. In time, other medications actually become toxic.

Dr. Horowitz also says medications also break down faster if they're kept in the car or in the bathroom.

"It's the humidity. The humidity is not a friend to these medications," said Dr. Horowitz.

He adds that one of the more dangerous practices is to keep all your family's prescription medications in one place. He says people can get them mixed up which can lead to dangerous drug interactions.

He recommends relatives keep them in separate locations. And if you're taking any strong pain medicines always keep them in a secure place.

"Any medicine that is controlled should be in a locked location. Someplace where it can't be misappropriated," said Dr. Horowitz.

Kristina says she gets all her prescriptions at one place so the pharmacy can keep track of her prescription profile. She also makes a point of asking her pharmacist a lot of questions.

"Anything that I need to refill I ask the pharmacist when it expires and how to take the medicine," said Kristina.

While Dr. Horowitz says people who rely on prescription medications should keep extra on hand in the event of an emergency, he says don't keep a large stock of acetaminophen at home. He says it's one of top things people tend to take too much of.

Web Extra Information:

The hazards of a cluttered medicine cabinet can be very real for large families or for people taking multiple medications especially the elderly. With several family members or loved ones relying on the same location for their medicine, it is important to take the time to clean and sort medications so that potentially harmful medication errors can be avoided. Thomas Horowitz, D.O., specializing in Family Practice at Good Samaritan Hospital, offers advice for the maintenance of a safe and organized home medicine cabinet.

Before addressing an overflowing medicine cabinet, Dr. Horowitz first recommends that people take steps to avoid a shortage of medicine at home. "In case of a delay of supply, people reliant on prescription medications should keep a two-week supply in reserve," said Dr. Horowitz. "People with prescription plans should look for an opportunity to stay ahead of schedule. Building up a reserve can be essential in the case of an earthquake or family emergency."

For those suffering from the clutter of too many medicines, Dr. Horowitz offers a three step plan to peace of mind. The first step is that each family member should keep medications in a different place, either in a separate location completely or in an individual basket. "Baskets help keep medicines from spilling, and in the case of an emergency, paramedics will oftentimes request a patient's current medications, and having them in a central location will help," said Dr. Horowitz.

Once the medications are separated either in different parts of the house or by basket, the bottles should be checked to ensure that childproof caps are intact and properly sealed to avoid medication errors. "Many times the caps will simply be resting on top of the bottle and if the bottle falls over, its contents will spill," said Dr. Horowitz. "If the parent is unable to handle childproof caps, a sturdy replacement cap should be found to make sure there's no spillage." Dr. Horowitz also advises that any medication that carries the potential for abuse should be kept under lock and key and away from prying eyes.

The second step for the maintenance of a medicine cabinet is that unless someone is using labeled pill dividers, people should keep pills in their original bottles and ask the pharmacist to include the medication's purpose on the label. According to Dr. Horowitz, it's also advisable to make medication cards containing medications and their dosages, as well as a list of poorly tolerated medications.

"It should be noted that an poorly tolerated medication is not the same as having an allergic reaction to one, and that in the case of an emergency it may be possible to have a medication that normally causes stomach discomfort administered intravenously." On the card, poorly tolerated medications should be distinguished from ones that cause an allergic reaction. "Keeping a medication that causes an allergic reaction is like having a time bomb," said Dr. Horowitz.

A third step is to maintain a priority of medications, and to ensure that when medications are discontinued, to decide whether they will ever be used again and if not, to dispose of them properly. There's a chance they might be helpful and should be kept in reserve. For instance, oftentimes one antibiotic should be kept in reserve in case it could be needed in the foreseeable future. "There's no reason to throw away something that you might buy in two weeks," said Dr. Horowtiz. Checking for expiration dates on medications is also very important. "Certain medications lose potency over time, and others become toxic." Dr. Horowitz also said that certain medications also contain coatings that can break down with time, and if ingested, cause an incorrect balance of medication to be delivered.

Dr. Horowitz also stressed the importance of properly disposing of medicines found to be expired or otherwise unusable. "You should never flush medicines down the toilet," he said. "These are chemicals which should not be put in the water supply." Instead, Dr. Horowitz suggests that expired or unused medications should be taken to a pharmacy or to a hospital for proper disposal.

Medicine cabinets should be checked twice a year, when clocks are turned forward or backward. "Despite the fact that we think we'll remember to get rid of expired medications, we often forget and they stay there."

Lastly, when in doubt, bring in all medicines when you have a doctor's appointment so both of you can review the medicine's validity over time. For more information about medication safety, contact your doctor.

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