FRIDAY, June 25 (HealthDay News) -- It's a common find in medicine cabinets and bathroom drawers: a prescription vial containing years-old medication or an over-the-counter cold remedy that's embarrassingly past its sell-by date.
But unless they're spring-cleaning, many people don't bother throwing away these items. And when they do, people often turn to the toilet and flush the products away.
Both behaviors are big mistakes.
Keeping out-of-date medications in the house poses dangers to everyone in the family. And flushing old medications down the toilet can be harmful to the environment.
Old drugs and remedies kept moldering in the medicine cabinet may not be able to help you when you need them the most.
"The big reason to dispose of these medications would be that they may be ineffective. They lose potency over time," said Jeffrey C. Delafuente, an associate dean and professor in the School of Pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University. "After the expiration date, there's no guarantee they'll be of any benefit."
Someone with severe asthma, for instance, might reach for an inhaler during an asthma attack only to find that it's full of expired medication, Delafuente said. "That could put them in the emergency department, or they could die from the attack," he said.
Old medications also pose an overdose hazard. Statistics from the American Association of Poison Control Centers show that most childhood poisonings are due to ingestion of over-the-counter medicines or prescription drugs.
So, if you should get rid of medications after their expiration date, why not flush them?
Because biologists have found that flushed medications are getting into the ecosystem and have the potential to cause environmental damage, said Tiffany Parson, a biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
"We're concerned about aquatic habitats, and med
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