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Go Ask Mom

Get Smart: Clean out those medicine cabinets - why medications shouldn't be shared, saved

Posted February 17, 2015
Updated February 18, 2015

The campaign aims to curb antibiotic overuse.

Here's what happened the last time one of my kids had pink eye. And the time before that. And the time before that.

I mention to a friend or neighbor or a parent of a classmate that I am headed to the doctor, who is going to check out my child's pink, itchy eye, and my kind friend or neighbor makes an offer similar to this: "Save that co-pay! I have a bottle of eye drops that Johnny used the last time he had pink eye. Let me get it for you!"

I always answer with a mumble of thanks before I quickly head in the opposite direction to see the doctor.

Maybe some might criticize me as silly, a worrier, even spendthrift ... since I might be out $40 once I pay for that doctor's visit and prescription. But Laini Jarrett-Echols, a health educator for the N.C. Hospital Association, calls me smart.

"It’s bad to share because medications are prescriptions to you and only you," said Jarrett-Echols, who also is a mom. "Sometimes they are dosed to you based on your weight [or other medications]. If you give that to someone else, you have no clue how that is going to impact the other person. You could be creating toxicity in their system with some medication." 

What's more, medications expire and could be contaminated, she said. In the case of that bottle of eye drops, the tip could have touched the neighbor kid's infected eye.

"You’re giving your child additional pink eye with the swap," she said.


Jarret-Echols said we all need to let go of the old medications in our medicine cabinets and not share them with others.​ And, really, we shouldn't have any old medication hanging around the house anyway, she added. She is working on a state campaign called Get Smart About Antibiotics, which aims to curb antibiotics overuse.

The practice is leading to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. According to the CDC, at least 2 million people are infected with an antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year. About 23,000 people die.

"That’s the biggest piece we’re trying to relay," Jarrett-Echols said. "If you don’t take it all, you’re not giving yourself the chance to make sure you’re fully healed. And you won’t have that extra laying around."

Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria. And while you might start feeling better after a few days into a course of treatment, that doesn't mean the drug has killed all of the germs that were making you sick.

"If you're not able to get your body completely rid of the bacteria that you were being prescribed the antibiotics for, some of that still lies dormant in your system," she said. "While you may feel better, a few days later, it may flare up in your system." 

And the second time around, that same antibiotic that you were taking may not do the job.

"It might become a more complicated situation at that point," she said. " ... It’s almost like it morphs into something different that is not necessarily reacting to the type of medication you were given the first time."

Jarrett-Echols recommends that if people know they aren't the kind of person to take a medication for the full five days that it's been prescribed, for instance, they should talk to their doctor about taking another medication. Maybe a bigger dosage for a shorter amount of time, she said.

"There are other options," she said.

If you do feel better before your medication runs out and you're considering not taking it, Jarrett-Echols recommends that you check with your doctor first.

If a doctor agrees that you don't need to finish the full course of the medication or you have other old medications hanging around for whatever reason, Jarrett-Echols recommends disposing of them at special medication drop-off events or pharmacies that take leftover medications. 

No drugs in the house means you'll feel less inclined to share. But it will also keep tweens, teens and others from rummaging through your medicine cabinet to find pharmaceuticals that might give them a high.

According to the N.C. Department of Justice, prescription drugs are the second most abused drug among kids ages 12 to 17. In North Carolina, about 1,000 people die from a prescription drug overdose each year. (If you do have prescriptions for chronic conditions, Jarrett-Echols said they should be kept secure in a locked lockbox).

"It doesn't matter what it is," Jarrett-Echols said. "They have no clue what the stuff is. A lot of them are chopping it up and snorting it and smoking it to see what effect it has."

So clean out those medicine cabinets, dump out those toiletry bags and stop sharing those medications.

Jarrett-Echols understands that folks are just trying to help their neighbor and their friends when they make the offer. Going to the doctor and filling a prescription take time and money - two things that are in short supply for many families these days. 

"I think it is out of generosity, not wanting to see your neighbors and friends and family spending their resources either. It’s time and finances," Jarrett-Echols said. "And we all think we’re just so smart." 

Go Ask Mom is partnering with the North Carolina Quality Center to help parents Get Smart About Antibiotics. For additional information and resources, see


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