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Could using old medication kill you?

Winter has arrived and with it colds and flu. If you’re thinking of using meds that have been in the cabinet for months—don’t do it.

Spokesperson for pharmaceutical company Pharma Dynamics Nicole Jennings says keeping unused medication is not advised as it can lead to misuse and accidental overdose.

“Leftover medication is often used to self-medicate but, when the wrong combination of medicines is mixed to treat minor ailments, the consequences could be serious.”

According to a Twitter poll by Pharma Dynamics, 89% of people haven’t cleared their medicine cabinets in the past two years.

Hoarding medication might seem like saving for a rainy day but there’s a chance that it’ll bring more rainy ones. Taking medication when it’s expired is at best ineffective and, at worst, toxic.

Jennings also encourages people to complete the course of their antibiotics because stopping and resuming later can lead to antibiotic resistance, which is hard to treat.

In addition, if there are children in the house, easy access to multiple medicines can be fatal.

“About 40% of calls to the Poisons Information Centre at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital concerning children under the age of five are due to the ingestion of medicines,” Jennings says.

Tips for keeping your medicine cabinet healthy:

  • Discard expired medications, whether they have been opened or not. Once opened, they are introduced to germs and the clock starts ticking on their shelf life. Good practice is to write the date it was opened on the packaging and discard a year thereafter. The same goes for general hygiene products.
  • Throw away any medicines or other products that have changed colour, taste or odour, which could be due to exposure to sunlight or heat.
  • Before disposing of medicines, remove all personal details from bottles and packaging to keep your medical information private.
  • Check that medical devices, such as thermometers, blood pressure monitors and nebulisers, are still in good working order.
  • Always store medication on a high shelf where children cannot reach it. Avoid storing it in a bathroom cabinet, as steam from showers and baths can expedite its expiry. It’s best to store medicine in a dry, cool place.
  • An easy way to keep an inventory of the medicines you keep at home, and to ensure you don’t double up, is to group them in categories, such as cold and flu medication; pain and fever; allergies etc.

When cleaning out your medicine cabinet, do not throw medicines in the bin because children and pets could find them.

Flushing them down the toilet is also not advisable as trace amounts can contaminate the water supply and potentially harm aquatic life. Rather take discarded medications to a pharmacy, so they can dispose of them safely.

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