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The Medical Minute: How to safely dispose of opioids

Cleaning out your medicine cabinet is about more than having a tidy bathroom. In an age of opioid addiction, it can also prevent leftover medications from getting into the wrong hands.

Dr. Alexis Reedy-Cooper, a staff physician in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, said opioid addiction continues to increase, and Pennsylvania is no exception. In fact, it is one of the top five states affected by the issue.

Doctors typically prescribe opioids to patients who break a bone or who are recovering from surgery. The dosage is a delicate balance between keeping the patient comfortable and preventing addiction.

“We try to give patients just enough so that there won't be a lot of leftovers, but we can't always guess how much someone is going to need,” Reedy-Cooper said. “We want patients to use the lowest dose necessary and use it for the least amount of time.”

Leftover pills can fall into the wrong hands. Patients can also become dependent on the euphoric state that these medications can produce. It is difficult for a person to wean themselves off of these types of medications when they have been on them for an extended period of time.

People wishing to discard their medications can do so at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center's biannual Drug Take Back Day. The event, which is open to the public, will be held Saturday, April 28, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at 90 Hope Drive in Hershey. It is designed to give the local community a convenient and easy way to dispose of any unused or expired medications as well as needles and syringes.

“Last year, we had approximately 250 cars drive through, and we collected around 300 pounds of medications and nine large biohazard containers of needles and syringes,” said Kimberly Cimarelli, the Medical Center's manager of inpatient pharmacy services and organizer of the event.

Attendees will receive information about proper disposal of medication and medical supplies, as well as Mr. Yuk stickers, pill boxes and other items.

The event is rewarding, said Cimarelli, because most of the people who attend the event are so thankful to have a safe place to dispose of the items.

Besides Drug Take Back Day, Cimarelli said local residents can also take unused medications to their local police department for proper disposal.

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The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature produced by Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Articles feature the expertise of faculty physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

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