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Unsecured prescriptions are deadly dangers

Leaving medications in easily accessible places lead to lethal consequences

POSTED: April 29, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Many people have unused prescription medications lying forgotten under the bathroom sink or in medicine cabinets. This may be a common practice, but research suggests it is a dangerous, and possibly lethal, one.

“It’s really important that people properly secure medications, and keep them out of the reach of children and anyone who might have an interest in (illicitly) taking them,” said JP Banks, director of the Drug Free Coalition of Hall County. “If someone takes medications that are not prescribed to them, they can have serious adverse reactions resulting in possible accidental overdoses.”

To highlight the dangers of forgotten medications, several local organizations and law enforcement agencies participated in National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, in which four sites were set up in the county to collect and dispose of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. In the past six Take Back events, the county collected more than 600 pounds of unused medications.

Prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse is a growing epidemic in America, falling behind only alcohol and marijuana as the most commonly abused drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In Hall County, data show high schoolers consider prescription drugs as easy to get, and roughly half say they can get them from friends or family, Banks said.

According to a student health survey conducted by the Georgia Department of Education in 2013, roughly 4 percent, or nearly 200 total, of county high schoolers who took the survey admitted to abusing prescription drugs in the past 30 days. Between 2010 and 2012, 72 people suffered accidental drug overdoses in Hall County alone, Banks said.

“There is a myth among students that if they are taking a prescription drug, it is safe,” Banks said. “It is safe only if it is taken as prescribed by the individual for whom it is prescribed.”

Errant teens aren’t the only ones who could be harmed by forgotten medications. Young children can also get into prescription drugs, often mimicking adults or mistaking pills for candy.

Safe Kids Gainesville/Hall County, a nonprofit aimed at raising awareness of child safety, participated in Saturday’s events, handing out medication lockboxes to Take Back Day participants at Lula Pharmacy.

“Our main goal is to get medications in secure locations so kids are not accessing them,” said Kim Martin, coalition coordinator for Safe Kids Gainesville/Hall County. “Young children cannot read labels, so it’s just best to keep medications high, preferably in a locked cabinet.

“Children’s metabolisms are a lot faster than adults, and just one pill can be fatal to a child.”

In 2012, the Georgia Poison Center received 1,345 calls from Hall County. Statewide, almost half of calls received were for children younger than 5 years old and more than 35,000 calls involved medications.

One common mistake people make is keeping medications in daily organizers, which are usually not child resistant and easily accessible.

“We recommend against using daily organizers, especially if you are going to have young children around,” Martin said. “They are very easy to open, and even a toddler, who is 2, can push a chair over to get them off of counters or the bathroom sink.”

Another common mistake is thinking prescription bottles are child-proof, when in fact, they are only resistant. To illustrate this fact, Martin conducted an experiment in which she gave empty medication bottles to young children at a local day care. Out of 20 children, five were able to open them, she said.

Martin recommends securing medications, cleaning supplies, lawn chemicals and liquid cosmetic products in a locked cabinet if there are children in the home. Also, secure vitamins, which can be toxic in high doses.

“A lot of vitamin companies are making gummy vitamins, and to a child, these are tasty and look like candy,” Martin said. “Vitamins are good for their health, but if they eat too many, it can be toxic.”

If you missed Saturday’s event, two permanent medication drop boxes are in Gainesville: one at the Gainesville Police Department, at 701 Queen City Parkway, and the other at the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, at 610 Main St. Both boxes are available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For more information, visit the Drug Free Coalition of Hall County website, www.faceitpeople.org, or the Safe Kids Gainesville/Hall County website, www.safekidsgainesvillehall.org.


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