Guard Your Rx Meds This Holiday Season

By Bryan Le 12/24/12

The Fix asks an expert for her top tips on safeguarding your pills—and your loved ones—at this time of year.

Don't let pills spoil your holiday cheer.
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Crowded households during the holidays mean the risk of prescription drug abuse—long since declared an epidemic by the CDC—is higher than ever. A recent national survey revealed that 70% of those who abuse Rx meds first get them from a friend or relative. It's easy to imagine house guests in unfamiliar surroundings at this time of year stumbling upon a (prescribed) stash—perhaps an aching uncle looking for anything labeled “pain relief,” or some overexcited youngsters seeking a "safe" high (it's from a pharmacy, right?). With this in mind, The Fix asks Tanya Roberts, project coordinator at Operation Medicine Cabinet in North Carolina, for her top tips on keeping everyone safe:

  • Keep your meds in a safe place. If you know where they are, it's easy to check that they're all still there. Lock them up in a high place where guests and small children can't access them, preferably in a less-trafficked room—not the bathroom where everyone goes and locks the door. And close the bottles themselves properly; a child safety cap won't work if you don't hear the lock click. "There is always an increase in incidents when people come together," Roberts tells us. "Remind women in particular to not store a variety of medications in an Altoids container or similar. Pills look like candy or Skittles to little children."


  • Don't share. This won't make you a Scrooge; sharing your meds isn't just dangerous—it's a felony. Prescriptions are tailored to individuals' needs according to many factors—including body types, other meds they're on, pre-existing conditions and allergies—and giving someone the wrong meds could harm or even kill them. It's how Bruce Lee died. 


  • Make sure your guests also keep their meds safe. Kids and others could easily swipe a bottle from a purse left on the couch, so make sure everyone takes medication safety seriously. If you're a guest, let your hosts know you need a safe place to lock up your pills. "You can purchase small lock bags like the banks use for money," Roberts advises. "Ultimately, someone could get in there, but it will be much more challenging—and will make a point. Hopefully."


  • Get rid of what you no longer need. Again, this makes it easier to track what you have left. There are pharmaceutical take-back and disposal programs available: check your local listings and FDA advice. If you are keeping hold of unneeded meds for now, Talk About Rx recommends mixing them with something nasty—like coffee grounds or kitty litter—to make them less appealing, and putting them somewhere hard to find.


  • Know what to do in an emergency. Have a contingency plan. Keep the original labels on containers so you have that information available if the worst happens, and make a note of Poison Control's number: 800-222-1222. 


The holidays can also bring problems for those using the meds they were prescribed, Roberts warns. "People tend to drink more during the holidays and mixing medications is always a threat, especially for older people who metabolize differently," she tells us. "Encourage others to not drink alcohol if on medications for which it is contra-indicated, or they are not sure." And check out this list of foods that react badly with certain medicines.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter