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Fewer than half of California pharmacies provide correct drug disposal info

expired drugs

Fewer than half of California pharmacies provided correct prescription drug disposal details, a percentage that dropped if “secret shoppers” made their call on a weekend, according to a brief research report published online Dec. 31, 2019, in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The callers pretended to be well-meaning parents who were trying to safely dispose of unneeded antibiotics and opioid-based prescription painkillers after their child’s surgery. Fewer than half of the California pharmacies they called provided correct prescription drug disposal details, a percentage that dropped sharply if the “secret shoppers” made their call on a weekend, according to a brief research report published online Dec. 31, 2019, in Annals of Internal Medicine.

“The Food and Drug Administration advises consumers about how to safely dispose of unneeded medicines and, because pharmacists can play an integral role in this conversation, the American Pharmacists Association says prescription medication disposal should follow FDA guidelines,” says Rachel E. Selekman, M.D., MAS, a pediatric urologist at Children’s National Hospital and the study’s first author. “We found very few California pharmacies permitted take-back of unneeded medications. There was also a striking difference in the accuracy and completeness of drug disposal information depending on whether they answered the call on a weekday or a weekend. That suggests room for improvement,” Dr. Selekman says.

The multi-institutional research team, led by Primary Investigator and senior author Hillary L. Copp, M.D., MS, at University of California, San Francisco, identified licensed pharmacies located in urban and rural settings in California. That state that accounts for 10% of all U.S. pharmacies. They wrote a script that guided four male and two female “secret shoppers” to ask about what to do about leftover antibiotics (sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim tablets) and a liquid opioid-based painkiller (hydrocodone-acetaminophen). From late-February to late-April 2018, they called 898 pharmacies from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., asking about the correct way to dispose of these medicines.

According to the FDA, consumers should mix most unused medicines with an unappealing substance, like kitty litter, place it in a sealed container and toss the container in the trash.  Medicines that can be harmful to others, like opioids, should be flushed down the sink or toilet. Many pharmacies have programs or kiosks to handle unused prescription medicines.

Of the pharmacies surveyed in California:

  • 47% provided correct information about disposing of antibiotics
  • 29% provided correct information about how to dispose of both antibiotics and opioids
  • 19% provided correct information about how to dispose of opioids
  • 49% provided correct antibiotic disposal information and 20% provided correct opioid disposal information on weekday calls
  • 15% provided correct antibiotic disposal information and 7% provided correct opioid disposal information on weekend calls

Asked specifically about drug take-back programs, just 11% said their pharmacy had one that could be used to dispose of antibiotics or opioids.

“Unused prescription medications can be misused by others and can result in accidental childhood poisonings,” Dr. Selekman adds. “The bottom line is that we often talk about how to address the problem of too many unused medications lingering in homes. There are many reasons this is a problem, but part of the problem is nobody knows what to do if they have too many prescription medicines. Because of this research, we have discovered that pharmacies don’t uniformly provide accurate information to our patients. Patients, families and health care professionals who advise families should work together to help improve and expand safe disposal options for these powerful medications.”

In addition to Drs. Selekman and Copp, the research team includes co-authors Thomas W. Gaither, M.D., MAS, Zachary Kornberg, BA, and Aron Liaw, M.D., all of whom were at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, Division of Pediatric Urology at the time the study was performed.

baby in arms

Breast-feeding, anesthesia and analgesics: What’s safe?

baby in arms

Breast-feeding is safe even just after moms have woken from anesthesia or while they take most pain medications, says Sarah Reece-Stremtan, M.D., lead author of an expanded protocol about the topic.

Moms can safely continue breast-feeding even just after waking from anesthesia and while taking most pain medications, according to a newly expanded clinical guidance, “Clinical Protocol No. 15: Analgesia and Anesthesia for the Breastfeeding Mother,” from the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM).

In general, mothers who are beyond the postpartum stage do not need to avoid breast-feeding or to pump and discard breast milk while taking analgesics or receiving local or general anesthesia. The protocol was published in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine.

Sarah Reece-Stremtan, M.D., an anesthesiologist and acute pain medicine specialist at Children’s National Health System, co-chairs ABM’s protocol committee and is the lead author of the expanded protocol. A specialist in the intersection of anesthesia, pain medicine and breast-feeding medicine, Dr. Reece-Stremtan led the drafting of the recommendations.

“The key recommendation in this protocol is after waking up from anesthesia, most moms can breast-feed right away,” says Dr. Reece-Stremtan. “The standard thinking has been ‘pump and dump’ – discarding the breast milk for 24 hours after anesthesia. As an outdated practice, it is not evidence-based and is potentially harmful for babies. The evidence shows that this breast milk is safe.”

The authors’ main note of caution relates to opioids: “The most concerning class of medications used for anesthesia and analgesia in breast-feeding mothers is opioids, as these medications transfer into breast milk,” they write. “Judicious use of opioids for short periods is likely to be safe for most breast-feeding mothers and infants.”

The protocol recommendations cover pain medications, brief procedures, regional and general anesthesia and perioperative considerations. They provide more granular detail about specific anesthesia and analgesic agents.

For each recommendation, the protocol notes the strength or weakness of the evidence base. The authors note there is little rigorous information in the scientific literature about anesthesia or procedural sedation in breast-feeding mothers.

“For obvious reasons, it is unethical to conduct randomized, controlled clinical trials for this area, so we rely on expert opinion and on observational studies that do exist,” says Dr. Reece-Stremtan.

The protocol is intended to be relevant to a broad range of medical fields, from anesthesiology to general pediatrics, and to help any physician who may care for a new mother.

For instance, it includes a perioperative plan with suggestions that surgeons or physicians can share with their patients to make things easier for a breast-feeding mom who needs local or general anesthesia – and safer for their babies. “It’s important to acknowledge that medication isn’t the only or even the most important thing,” says Dr. Reece-Stremtan. Tips to aid breast-feeding can ease the minds of mothers and their physicians alike.

Dr. Reece-Stremtan has long been interested in breast-feeding and has seen a need for more education about where her areas of expertise, pediatric anesthesia and pain medicine, intersect. Few physicians specialize in this area, so she often gives talks to other clinicians on the topic.

“I know that most anesthesiologists do not encounter this scenario often, so many have questions about the impact of anesthesia agents on breast-feeding,” says Dr. Reece-Stremtan. “Likewise, general pediatricians, neonatal specialists and other health professionals who care for moms and newborns may have limited knowledge about the safety of pain medicine or anesthesia for breast-feeding infants.”

In developing this new set of recommendations, ABM’s protocol committee aimed to provide practical clinical guidance for two scenarios: Postpartum, and moms and babies who are past that stage. The committee divided a previous ABM protocol into these two areas and expanded them to offer clinicians more complete guidance that is clinically relevant yet concise. Dr. Reece-Stremtan attributes this expansion to a growing appreciation of the importance of breast-feeding to both individual and public health. She is helping to finalize ABM’s new birth-postpartum protocol on anesthesia and analgesics, which will be published in early 2018.

To build on these protocols, Dr. Reece-Stremtan is helping the Academy develop a set of free patient education materials that will inform mothers about the use of pain medications or the need for anesthesia while breast-feeding, so they can feel at ease that they are doing the best thing for their baby’s health.