On Tuesday evening, January 10, the Navigating the Medical System Lecture Series, hosted by Congregation Etz Chaim, shared an informative virtual lecture on safe use and disposal of medication. Dr. Mel Breite, Founder and Director of the series, welcomed everyone and introduced the guest speaker, Wing Fun Leo-to, PharmD, BCPSN, Pharmacy Manager at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens Hospital,

She first spoke about drug shortages of Amoxicillin and Tamiflu. She suggested that you call your pharmacy to see if they have the medication in stock and, if not, then call area pharmacies and have your physician transfer your prescription to the pharmacy that has your medication in stock. Shortages can be due to COVID restrictions in China, manufacturers’ stringent rules, or the war in Ukraine.

Wing Fun shared that prior authorization depends on insurance company formulary. It takes time for drug companies to review new drugs.

Next, she spoke about safe drug disposal. There are drug take-back programs twice a year called National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day in April and in October. The next one will be on Saturday, April 22, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., and the location will be announced. Also, there are community-sponsored drug take-back programs, where you go onto the website DEAtakeback.com and enter your ZIP Code. Some companies have seal-and-send drug take-back with proprietary DEA tracking. Some pharmacies offer onsite medicine drop-off boxes and mail-back programs. Most chains have these near the pharmacy. You can ask your pharmacy if they have this.

If you are unable to send medication back in the above ways, then the second recommendation is to flush medications down the sink or toilet. Check the label to be sure it is safe to be flushed. New York State doesn’t recommend flushing medications because of concerns about the water system. Opioids can be flushed. The FDA says there is no sign of environmental effects caused by flushing medications or from waste.

She spoke about Fentanyl patches. This is a powerful, dangerous drug, and so if you are disposing of a patch with it, you must fold it in half and make sure it’s thrown away and doesn’t stick to bedding or on the floor. The same is true for other patches: When you dispose of them, fold the edges and put them into the garbage.

She shared that most medicines can be thrown into the trash. Remove the packaging and put into resealable Ziplock-type bags or a can that is hard to open. Also, scratch out personal information, as there is a possibility of drug users going through trash.

Next, she focused on the safe disposal of syringes. Never throw them into trash or a toilet. Use puncture proof plastic container, not a glass container, for disposal. Write “home sharps – not for recycling” with a waterproof marker on the front of the container. Also, she advised to seal it with heavy duty tape. New York hospitals and nursing homes are required by law to act as collection centers for properly contained home sharps. Household sharps are also accepted at safe disposal events.

After this, she spoke about safe storage of medications. Most medicines should be stored at room temperature – between 68 and 70 degrees – and they should be kept away from light, heat, and moisture. She noted that, each year, 60,000 young kids are treated in emergency rooms for getting into medication on their own or for adults’ errors in dosage. Store all medications in a hard-to-reach spots for children or pets. Lock the safety cap. Don’t use household spoons to measure medication.

She then spoke about some apps and services to aid people with medication. There are online pharmacy services that put a date and time on each package. Some include Harpell Pharmacies and Amazon.

With over-the-counter medications, she advised people to read the label carefully, and taking more doesn’t mean better. Don’t take longer or at higher doses than recommended. There can also be multiple products under the same name brand, with similar-looking labels. So, it’s important to read the ingredients. An example is Tylenol Cold + Flu and Tylenol Sinus Fever. You should ask your pharmacist for details on these types of medications.

She stressed that medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, and even herbal supplements, can interact with food, beverages, heal conditions, and other medications you are taking.

Be sure to keep a list of all your medications, supplements, and dosages so you have them on hand for a provider . Also, in an emergency, this information is vital for medical people treating you to know.

She shared that vitamins and herbal supplements are not required to meet specific quality standards like medications. On a voluntary basis, some companies use USP standards. She recommends you look for USP on the label.

She concluded with some other important safety tips. Do not give your medication to other people to use. Do not use old medications without consulting your doctor. Some expired drugs can cause harm, so check the expiration date.

The lecture ended with a lively Q&A.

The community is grateful to Dr. Breite and Congregation Etz Chaim for hosting this most informative and vital lecture.

By Susie Garber