Drug Use

Don't trash old drugs

JGH News, Fall 2010

We’ve all done it: Finished with our old medications, we simply flush them down the toilet, never to be seen or thought of again. But before you send your expired drugs the way of your dear, departed pet goldfish, there are a few things that Eva Cohen, JGH Chief of Pharmacy, would like you to know.

When prescription drugs are flushed or poured down a drain, they necessarily disappear. Instead, some of the chemical components can seep into our water supply or soil. Though the concentration of chemicals is extremely low, it can build up over time and potentially cause health problems.

To alleviate the risk to the environment and ourselves, Ms. Cohen recommends bringing old or expired medications to local pharmacies, including the one at the JGH, which can ensure that medications are disposed of in the least harmful and most environmentally friendly way. At the JGH, even the bottles and boxes are recycled whenever possible.

Ms. Cohen further advises that prescription drugs should be taken until completely used up, unless a physician specifies otherwise. It’s also a good idea to check your medicine cabinet once a year to be certain that old medication is not still lying around. If you aren’t sure whether an old item is still good, don’t use it; first consult your local pharmacist.

For more information about this and other issues related to medication, check with your local pharmacy or visit  Health Canada.

Beware of healthful vitamins in hazardous mega-doses

If a minimum daily dose of vitamins is a prescription for good health, then a mega dose must be the key to great health, right? Wrong! When it comes to vitamins, you can get too much of a good thing—and it might even make you sick.

“People sometimes mistakenly believe that vitamins are not medicine or are never toxic,” says Eva Cohen, Chief of the JGH’s Pharmacy Department. “This is because vitamins are known to be essential to health and they can be purchased over the counter. So you may think you’re being health conscious by taking extra amounts of vitamins, but the fact is, you could be setting yourself up for serious problems.”

Similarly, she adds, there is no truth to the frequently-heard assertions that vitamins provide energy, stimulate the appetite, increase intelligence and memory, accelerate weight gain, and are superior if they come from natural sources than if prepared synthetically.

In general, Ms. Cohen says, a person who eats properly and has no vitamin deficiencies has nothing to lose by taking a regular multi-vitamin. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t take a vitamin supplement in the right amount and in the correct composition, especially if it complements a balanced diet. But focusing on high doses of a particular vitamin has not yet been proven to have clear benefits and may be dangerous in some circumstances. You also have to be sure there’s nothing that might conflict with any medication that you may be taking.”

Here are some of the hazards associated with vitamins in mega doses:

  • Vitamin A: extremely harmful to the fetus during the first trimester of pregnancy, also nausea, vomiting, vertigo
  • Vitamn B3 (Niacin): flushing, hives, jaundice, liver damage
  • Vitamin C: diarrhea (especially if more than one gram per day is consumed), abdominal bloating, dental decalcification
  • Vitamin D: muscle weakness, bone demineralization with pain
  • Vitamin E: headache, fatigue, easy bruising and bleeding
  • Beta-carotene: These supplements should be completely avoided by smokers, because the pills can increase the risk of lung cancer.

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