Disposing of old medicine

December 20, 2007|By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon

How do you advise people to dispose of their prescription and over-the-counter drugs safely? I worry about this stuff being flushed down the toilet and contaminating the water supply.

Flushing unused or outdated medications down the toilet is a bad idea for that very reason. The government is suggesting that unused drugs, especially potent pain relievers or sleeping pills, be mixed with something nasty before putting them in the trash. Used kitty litter has been proposed to make the pills unpalatable to children, pets and drug addicts.

One veterinarian complained to us, however, that mixing drugs with used kitty litter is dangerous for dogs and some other animals that find used kitty litter appetizing. Ask a pharmacist about other ways to dispose of unused medicines.

Over-the-counter ibuprofen was my friend. I thought it was a miracle drug for pain and inflammation. I have osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, and I took ibuprofen often to relieve pain.

Then I went for a routine physical, which included blood work and urinalysis. Both my internal-medicine doctor and I were shocked that my creatinine level was very high -- indicating I was close to kidney failure.

After careful consideration of the medications I was using, we determined that ibuprofen was the culprit. I quit taking it immediately on my doctor's orders. My creatinine levels have been normal ever since.

I don't think many people consider kidney damage as a side effect of regular ibuprofen use. I certainly had no idea.

Millions of people take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen every day to relieve pain and inflammation. Many assume such OTC medications are risk-free.

These pain relievers can be hard on the kidneys, especially when taken for a long time. Other complications may include liver damage, fluid retention, high blood pressure, heart failure and stomach ulcers. No one should take NSAIDs for more than 10 days without careful medical supervision.

Thank you for sharing your story. It may help others avoid a similar problem. We are sending you our Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis with detailed information about the dangers of NSAIDs and prednisone, plus many nondrug alternatives for pain relief. The book is available for $2 from our Web site: peoplespharmacy.com.

I was surprised that you didn't include a reference to plant stanol esters in your answer to a question about lowering cholesterol. Six years ago, my husband's cholesterol was at 385. We didn't want him to take statins because of interactions with other health problems.

His cardiologist recommended that he use at least 1 tablespoon of Benecol at each meal and make some other dietary changes. This brought his cholesterol down to 185.

The Food and Drug Administration has concluded that stanol esters can lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Spreads such as Benecol, Promise activ and Take Control contain these plant products. We are delighted to learn that the dietary changes your husband made had such a profound impact on his cholesterol levels.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or e-mail them via their Web site: peoplespharmacy.com.

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