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Anyone who has ever met with me in my office knows that I am not a very organized person. I am very good at organizing people and keeping details for upcoming programs organized but my desk and my space, is not one of those things I organize well. Most of the time, my lack of organization serves me just fine. Until it doesn’t.
This morning, in an effort to find Tylenol for our 16-month-old, I unearthed a medicine cabinet treasure trove of useless and dangerous medications. There were three bottles of expired children’s Advil, expired children’s Zyrtec, one leftover tablet of Amoxicillin and two bottles of narcotics that had been prescribed to me following a miscarriage and a year later after a C-section.
For those of you who just did the math, that means that those prescription pain killers have been sitting in my medicine cabinet for over two years. Two years! That means that I have looked through the nooks and crannies of my home prior to Passover, two times over, searching for every speck of bread or pasta but I didn’t take the time to look through the medications in my home and remove those that were dangerous or no longer served their function.
How could it be that these medications went overlooked in my pre-Pesach preparations? According to Jewish law, prior to Passover one must remove all chametz from our domains so that we may not eat, possess or benefit from chametz during Passover. The word, “chametz’ in Hebrew literally means to ferment or to leaven. Things that fall into the category of chametz include any food that consists of wheat, spelt, barley, oats or rye and that has come into contact with moisture and, therefore, may have leavened or fermented.
Though some medications do contain trace elements of the above mentioned grains, non-chewable medications, such as tablets, are not considered food and, therefore, do not need to be removed from one’s home and even can be administered during Passover. Knowing that medication falls into a non-food category, I’ve never rifled through my medicine cabinet during my pre-Passover cleaning.
Thinking more about the spiritual dimensions of chametz, I fear that I gravely overlooked disposing of old medications in my Pesach preparations for there is quite a bit that chametz and old medications have in common.
Matzah, the food that we are commanded to eat during Passover, is made up of the exact same ingredients as those that create chametz. Both matzah and chametz come from wheat and water. However, to create Kosher for Passover matzah the wheat can only be exposed to the water for 18 minutes or less, a time period which our sages determined was not long enough for the mixture to puff up. Foods that have become chametz symbolically represent things that are inflated in our lives, like our egos or even creature comforts. Chametz inherently is not bad just like confidence and extravagance are not inherently bad. However, just like rising dough, these qualities can get out of control. Similarly, medicine, when taken during the right time and correct dosage can be therapeutic and beneficial. But, when that medicine is taken improperly, it can become very dangerous.
According to the FDA, expired medications pose a risk because their chemical compounds may be compromised or the strength of the medication may have decreased. When it comes to prescription pain relievers, these are particularly dangerous to leave in the home, once they are no longer needed. The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 70% of those who illegally use prescription pain medications obtain them from friends and family, at times taking them without permission from medicine cabinets. With young children in the home, it’s even more important to keep unnecessary medications out of the home (or, minimally, stored safely). According to UpAndAway, an educational program dedicated to teaching families about safe medication storage, 60,000 young children are brought to the ER each year for getting into medications.
Learning about the dangers of keeping medications past their prime, left me thinking about one of the commandments mentioned in the Torah portion Kedoshim, meaning “Holiness.” We read in this section of the Torah how we are not supposed to place a stumbling block before the blind. A metaphorical interpretation of this verse is that we should not create a situation in which someone is potentially in harm’s way. For those struggling with addiction, leaving prescription pain medications in the home, opens up the possibility that this medication might be taken. For children, who don’t yet understand how dangerous medications can be, they too can fall victim to taking medications in a dangerous way. Given that Passover is a time when we are thinking about living holy lives and being a holy people, certainly it seems that this is a wonderful time of year to ensure that we are not creating potentially dangerous situations with the leftover medications in our medicine cabinets.
So, this year, while you are cleaning the chametz out of your home, join me in also clearing out expired medications. There are three recommended ways to dispose of medications: DEA approved drug take back locations; throwing the medications in the trash or flushing them down the toilet. Check out this site to learn more about each option.
This week, my family began our cleaning and my husband poured out our expired liquid medications into some very yucky trash that also was jam packed with some paper towels to absorb some of the liquid. Our four-year-old when she later threw something away, commented on how the trash actually smelled good for once!
May you have a meaningful Passover and may your medicine cabinet be empty of all those medicines you no longer need.