Caution Required When Traveling With Medications

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NEWARK — Vacation season is upon us, and once the kids are dismissed from school for the summer travel plans become reality. Travel preparations can be overwhelming when the goal is to pack the essentials and keep suitcases light. For those who need to travel with medications, it is important to be aware of how to carry them safely to avoid them falling into the hands of children or being compromised as the result of temperature changes.

“Keeping prescriptions safe from the elements and out of reach of children when traveling should be part of planning this summer’s adventures,” said Dr. Steven Marcus, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System.

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“Even though not all medications fall under the Controlled Substance Act, medications are, by definition, controlled substances and can be very dangerous if taken by anyone other than the person for whom the medicine has been prescribed. Vacations are meant to distract us from our jobs and usual functions, but we must stay alert to dangers that are around us, for one thing, by keeping an eye on medications and who has access to them. This, hopefully, will ensure that no accidental exposure or misuse occurs,” he said.

The situation is a concern in New Jersey, where state data from NJPIES show that poison incidences involving prescription and OTC medications have risen from 38 percent of all reported exposures in 2000 to 47.7 percent in 2008.

There are strong indications that prescription and OTC medication abuse is on the rise. Travel, with its associated relaxation of attention to details such as where medications are stored, is an open invitation for individuals to gain access and misuse or abuse such medications. In testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, noted that seven of the top 11 drugs most commonly abused by teens are either prescribed or purchased over the counter.

In a 2008 study conducted by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, 44 percent of New Jersey parents knew little or nothing about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Last year, NJPIES received 286 cases of intentional abuse by teens (between 13 and 19 years of age), and of those reported cases 60.5 percent were the result of prescription and OTC medications. According to Dr. Marcus, good advice to follow when traveling is to know where your prescription and OTC medications are at all times. Medications that one least expects to cause problems can be very harmful; for example, analgesics, such as Tylenol®, Advil® and Motrin®, top the list as the most frequently reported toxic substances. Parents have been educated about the dangers of street drugs, but the more obvious risks associated with sedatives and stimulants, e.g., ADHD medications and pain medications, are being overlooked. Summer is the time when teens have more free time and are more apt to experiment with medications.

Prescription drug abuse is not just a problem among teenagers; adults ages 40-49 account for half of all documented cases of prescription drug abuse, according to a study by Medco Health Solutions Inc., Franklin Lakes.

“New Jersey families are not addressing the problem because they aren’t aware of it,” said Dr. Marcus. He suggests that all households purchase and use “medication safes,” which can be purchased relatively inexpensively and can be used at home and be taken on vacation with the family.

Seniors are vulnerable to unintentional poisoning during travel season partly because they are often prescribed more than one medication. Increased availability plus mix-ups due to poor vision or inadvertent combinations of medications put them at risk. Travel with grandparents presents the possibility that children may be exposed to the seniors’ medications. Using the aforementioned medication safe would be useful in prevention of such episodes. According to NJPIES it is extremely important to keep children, seniors and pets safe from medications. Three helpful tips for travelers include: (1) Store medications in locked suitcases or containers; (2) keep medications in their original, child-resistant containers; and (3) never refer to medications as candy.

Additional safety tips for traveling with medications, as reported by eHow, are:

  • Store medications in tightly closed, original pharmacy-labeled containers for protection from heat and light.
  • Place medications in carry-on luggage for easy access and to prevent loss in case your luggage is lost.
  • Bring extra medications and keep them in a separate bag in case the first set of medications is misplaced.
  • Carry a duplicate prescription in the event a refill is needed.
  • When carrying syringes, carry a copy of the prescription from the doctor.
  • Have on hand in your carry-on bag a schedule and complete list of all medications, which includes name, dosage and purpose for taking each prescription.
  • Keep a list of your doctors and pharmacist, with complete contact information.

NJPIES leaders urge medical professionals, parents, educators, caregivers and the general public to call the toll-free poison center hot line, 1-800-222-1222, to learn more about the risks of traveling with medication, or with questions about any poisoning emergency.

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