​​​​​​​​​Dr. Peter Wu, Chief Medical Resident, Toronto General Hospital
Dr. Peter Wu, Chief Medical Resident, Toronto General Hospital, advocates for the safe and timely disposal of unused or expired prescription drugs. UHN staff or patients can bring in any unused medications to any UHN Outpatient Pharmacies. (Photo: UHN)

Have you started your spring cleaning this year? You might want to spend some time clearing out your medicine cabinet.

Canada is the world's second largest per capita consumer of prescriptions after the United States. Fifteen per cent of Ontario students from grades 7-12 have used prescription drugs, including opioids and stimulants for recreation.

Unused prescription drugs not meant to be treated as leftovers

May 10 marks National Prescription Drug Drop-Off Day where select local police services will be offering take-back programs to provide safe and easy ways to dispose of unused and expired drugs and health products. But Canadians are encouraged to return unused expired medications to any pharmacy in Canada any day of the year.

The International Narcotics Control Board​ reports that Canadians' use of prescription opioids increased by 203 per cent between 2000-2010, an increase steeper than in the U.S.

Deaths related to prescription opioids doubled in Ontario, from 13.7 deaths per million in 1991 to 27.2 per million in 2004, more than twice the mortality rate from HIV (12 per million).

Dr. Peter Wu weighs-in on dangers of keeping unused prescriptions

Dr. Peter Wu, Chief Medical Resident, Toronto General Hospital, describes the dangers of keeping unused prescription medications:

  • Fifteen per cent of Ontario students in grades 7 to 12 have reported using prescription drugs such as opioids and stimulants for recreation
  • Some products contain enough ingredients in a single tablet to cause death in some patients, especially if mixed with other sedatives or alcohol
  • Patients may self- medicate for a new illness with medication previously described for a different illness, hindering an up-to-date and correct diagnosis and the use of a more appropriate antibiotic, if warranted
  • The accidental ingestion of unused prescription drugs by toddlers

Wu encourages everyone to practice safe disposal of unneeded or expired medications. Health Canada recommends unused medications be returned to local pharmacies or municipal waste disposal centres rather than disposing of them in the garbage or down the toilet.

Read Wu's interview with GlobalNews.ca: Hanging onto unused prescription drugs? Why docs say throw them out. 

Wu also co-wrote a May 5 editorial for the Canadian Medical Association Journal entitled, "Unused prescription drugs should not be treated like leftovers."​

Learn more about National Prescription Drug Drop-Off Day

The National Prescription Drug Drop-Off Day began as a pilot program between Niagara Regional Police Service and its community partners. It's now a national effort led by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP)  and supported by the federal government (through Public Safety Canada and Health Canada), the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, Partnership For a Drug Free Canada and the Canadian Pharmacists Association.

"It is an opportunity for all Canadians to safely dispose of unused pharmaceuticals so they cannot harm others, especially young people", stated CACP President Chief Constable Jim Chu. "Police services and community partners throughout Canada will be providing the public with an opportunity to safely dispose of their unused prescription medication at specified locations."

For more information about upcoming Prescription Drug Drop-off Day events in your area, contact your local police service. Staff or patients can bring in any unused medications to any UHN Outpatient Pharmacies.

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