Protection against Medication Dangers

Monday, July 9, 2012 - 5:44am

Safe Storage and Safe Disposal are Key Factors

The unsecured storage and improper disposal of unwanted medicines can lead to serious consequences ranging from tragic fatalities to environmental damage. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that since 1997, there have been 26 cases of accidental exposure to fentanyl patches (a powerful painkiller); ten resulted in death and twelve in hospitalization. Sixteen of these 26 cases involved children younger than 2 years old. Such incidents have prompted the FDA to issue a consumer alert warning that clearly advises against placing such an item into the household trash where curious children or pets can find it. They also recommended that used patches should be disposed of by "folding them in half so that the sticky sides meet, and then flushing them down a toilet."

Unfortunately, flushing these medicated patches, or any other medication, down the toilet has the unintended consequence of contaminating our rivers, lakes and streams and, potentially, even our drinking water supply - a problem that the FDA did acknowledge in its warning.

"We are lucky in Dane County to have a program that offers an environmentally friendly alternative to medication disposal" according to Cheryl Wittke, Executive Director of Safe Communities. "The MedDrop program currently has 10 secure locations throughout the county where unwanted medicines can be dropped off, incinerated and disposed of in the most environmentally safe method currently available. "Safe disposal of medicated patches helps prevent accidental exposure to the medication" said Wittke. She noted that "the safest way to dispose of a used patch is to fold it in half with the sticky sides facing each other, put it in a sealable plastic bag and take it to a MedDrop location. Unused patches should be left in their original packaging and also placed in a sealable plastic bag before delivering it to MedDrop".

Another major safety issue is what to do to make sure that all medications in your home stay out of the reach of children and family pets. These include both those that you no longer need as well as those you are still using. According to Donna Lotzer, Poison Education Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin Hospital & Clinics and a registered pharmacist, "small children are not the only ones who can get into medicines and be poisoned. Teens and adults may help themselves to both prescription and over-the-counter medications belonging to others for abuse purposes. Getting into the habit of securing all medicines in a locked cabinet or container is a good safety step in the home setting". She advised that "people should add a Poison Help sticker with the toll-free number of the Poison Center. They can offer immediate help in an emergency poisoning situation. Call 1-800-222-1222 unless the person is unconscious or having a seizure. In that case call 911 immediately".

Janel Heinrich, Director of Public Health Madison and Dane County, stated that "poisonings killed more Dane County residents last year than automobile crashes. Prescription, over-the-counter or illicit drugs are the major cause of these deaths. Pain medication can be especially dangerous when misused. Proper, secure storage of all medications can make a difference in reducing these numbers and proper disposal can make a difference in protecting our environment."

The Kohl's Safety Center at the American Family Children's Hospital offers a variety of safe storage products such as drawer latches, and cabinet locks, as well as a childproofing kit - tools that can help prevent potentially tragic accidental overdoses.

For information on the Kohl's Safety Center, see

The FDA also offers practical advice on locking up medications at

For more information on the coordinated efforts in Dane County lead by Safe Communities, to prevent drug poisoning and overdoses, see

Useful safety information about poisoning can be found at

For more details on the MedDrop program, including the locations of the drop boxes, see


Public Health - Madison & Dane County and
Safe Communities


  • Jeff Golden(608) 243-0302