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FDA: Flush it away

Posted Oct 16 2009 10:00pm

I went to a lecture the other night on risky behaviors of adolescents. The speakers including leading medical experts who work with teens. The main emphasis was on use/abuse of alcohol and marijuana. The speakers encouraged parents to lock up their liquor, for example.

The discussion reminded me of my youth, when these substances were certainly the  big trouble makers, along with harder drugs like PCP, LSD and to a lesser extent, cocaine and heroin. But I was very surprised that these experts didn’t mention the abuse of prescription drugs as something to watch out for. People might think to lock up their liquor cabinets and try persuading their kids to say no when someone offers a toke, but what about the prescription pain meds, tranquilizers and stimulants that parents commonly have in their medicine cabinets? Don’t they realize that these are potentially bigger problems and even more accessible and appealing to kids than buying something in a baggie from the local drug pusher? And what about the issue of kids who are already medicating seeing what it’s like at a higher dose or in combination with something else?

The FDA just published a guide entitled Disposal by Flushing of Certain Unused Medications: What You Should Know. It suggest throwing most unused meds away after mixing them with something “unpalatable” like coffee grounds or kitty litter and then sealing them in a container. However some pain drugs (e.g., Actiq, Oxycontin) are recommended for flushing down the sink or toilet because “they could be especially harmful to a child, pet, or anyone else if taken accidentally.”

Strangely, there’s no discussion at all about the possibility that someone may take the drug other than accidentally, e.g., for recreational purposes.

FDA does, however, devote space to addressing concerns people may have that flushing drugs will pollute the water:

Disposal of these select, few medicines by flushing contributes only a small fraction of the total amount medicine found in the water. FDA believes that any potential risk to people and the environment from flushing this small, select list of medicines is outweighed by the real possibility of life-threatening risks from accidental ingestion of these medicines.

Go figure.

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