Mind your medicine cabinet: Correct drug management saves lives

Allison Hibbard, LMFT, LAADC

Among high schoolers in the 12th grade, close to two in 10 reported using prescription medicine without a prescription. Two-thirds (66%) of teens who report abuse of prescription pain relievers are getting them from friends, family members, and acquaintances. While some teens abuse medicine to party and get high, many are using medicine to manage stress or regulate their lives.

Teens are more likely to abuse substances if they experience mental health symptoms including: depression, anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and learning disabilities. A teens personal history of being abused, family history of substance use disorders, low parental supervision or communication, or feeling different than their peers are also at higher risk for drug abuse then peers.

Many have heard the stories of teenagers raiding parents and grandparents’ medicine cabinets for drugs to use and experiment with and with a rise of prescription medications for children and teens directly, it is important to ensure your home is safe by minimizing the exposure and access to dangerous drugs. Use a locked cabinet or locking medicine bag where prescription medicine can be kept safely out of sight.

When disposing of medication, follow these helpful tips:

Do NOT give drugs away to anyone else. Many people have drugs prescribed to them to treat particular illnesses or conditions; sharing them involves many risks with potentially dangerous consequences like overdose, addiction, and other serious side effects.

DO NOT flush your medication. This can cause contamination to the aquatic environment. Wastewater treatment systems are not designed to remove medications and they can end up in our drinking water or in Lake Tahoe.

Mix it up and throw it out. It is a good practice to mix medicines with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds. Do not crush tablets or capsules. Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag and dispose of it in your household trash. Scratch out all personal information on the prescription label of your empty pill bottle or empty medicine packaging to make it unreadable, then dispose of the container.

Safely dispose of expired and unused prescriptions at a take-back location. Permanent Drug Take Back bins exist inside the South Tahoe Police Department lobby, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department lobby, and Douglas County Sheriff’s Department lobby, so you can safely dispose of medications all year long.

Tahoe Alliance for Safe Kids is teaming up with the South Lake Tahoe Police Department to provide a drug disposal opportunity at the Earth Day celebration from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, April 24, at Bijou Community Park. In addition, there will be a DEA Drug Take Back Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 30, at Lake Tahoe Community College in South Lake Tahoe. Free prescription lock bags will also be distributed at both events.

Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in the safety of teens when it comes to drug use. The best way to communicate with a teen about drug use is by being compassionate and understanding. Many teens are themselves prescribed medication, so teaching and modeling safe use of medication is also important.

When conversation is ineffective, parents can talk to their teen’s pediatrician about screening for substance use. For more on helping keep South Lake Tahoe children drug free, visit the Tahoe Alliance for Safe Kids website at

Allison Hibbard, LMFT, LAADC is a co-founder and executive director at Mountain High Recovery Center. MHRC strengthens individuals, families, and communities through the education and treatment of substance use disorders. Information and community resources are available at

Use a locked cabinet or locking medicine bag where prescription medicine can be kept safely out of sight.
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