Q: My medicine chest is full of old prescriptions and unused over-the-counter medicines. I’ve heard warnings about keeping them around, but what’s the smart way to get rid of them? -- Emalie G., Chicago
A: Great question! Keeping old prescription and OTC meds around is risky, because it gives curious children and drug-abusing teens and adults a chance to sample your meds. Two-thirds of people 12 and older who have abused prescription pain relievers within the past year say they got them from a friend or relative ... often unbeknownst to the “supplier.” And 24 percent of teens say they’ve abused a prescription drug, most often pain medications, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medications and stimulants, like those for ADHD.
It’s also risky for you, if you use drugs long after their expiration date. There’s no guarantee that a med will be safe or effective after that date, since chemical compositions change over time. Expired medications should always be disposed of safely. So what do you do?
1. Unless they’re on the Food and Drug Administration’s list of meds recommended for flushing (go to www.FDA.gov and search for “disposal by flushing”), don’t flush meds! Some meds are potential water-supply pollutants while others are too dangerous to dispose of in the trash (fentanyl patches, for example). Accidental exposure to meds (even those in “childproof” bottles) sends thousands of kids to the emergency room every year!
2. Ask your pharmacist about a take-back program. Or go to the DEA Office of Diversion Control website at (www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov). Call 1-800-882-9539 to find an authorized collector in your community.
3. No local disposal option? Remove meds (OTC and Rx) from original containers, mix with unpleasant substances such as coffee grounds, kitty litter or dirt. Put the mixture in a sealed baggie and place in trash.
We hope that everyone will take these recommendations to heart to protect their children, their community, the environment and themselves!
Q: I just found out I’m pregnant and my friend says that too much sugar when you’re pregnant can cause birth defects. Really? If that’s true, I don’t mind giving up my sodas, but I can drink diet drinks, right? -- Deborah P., Nashville, Tennessee
A: To answer your first question: give it up. Lab studies have shown that when expecting moms consume too much fructose (sodas with high fructose corn syrup are a major source), that can interfere with the placenta’s ability to deliver nutrients to the fetus. And that can hinder proper fetal growth. Too much sugar during pregnancy also has been linked to childhood obesity and diabetes later in your child’s life. So laying off sugary soda is a great idea.
But remember, HFCS is also found in processed foods such as cereal, pasta sauces, breads, jelly and even some brands of peanut butter (you have to read the label and look for the sugar content per serving as well as the words “corn” and “fructose”).
Replacing sugary drinks with diet drinks made with artificial sweeteners isn’t any better and actually could be worse. According to Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., registered and licensed dietician, and wellness manager at Dr. Mike’s Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, “Replacing corn sweeteners and table sugar with artificial sweeteners is a little like kicking your cigarette habit by switching to cigars.”
Recent research has linked artificial sweeteners to high blood sugar and weight gain, and excess weight gain during pregnancy seems to put your fetus and newborn at risk for everything from too great a birth weight to obesity, heart and metabolic problems later in life. And consider that one recent study linked diet soda-sipping with a tripled increase in belly fat in older adults.
So the smart move is to increase your water intake, enjoy unsweetened iced coffee or tea (be careful of too much caffeine when pregnant), flavor plain seltzer with lime, orange or berries, avoid all drinks that are artificially sweetened, and watch out for added sugars and syrups in all off-the-shelf products.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at firstname.lastname@example.org.