Patient Referral

Keeping the Palliative Care Medicine Cabinet Safe

keeping the medicine cabinet safe

A patient’s medicine cabinet is one of the most important parts of their hospice and/or palliative care experience. In it lies the palliative care medications that both relieve them of their symptoms and lead to the comfort and care that is the ultimate goal of their treatment.

In the same vein, this cabinet can be of potential danger to those around them if compromised. The cabinet can be dangerous to small children who may unintentionally find their way in or to older relatives who actively seek out the palliative care medicine for purposes of abuse.

Gretchen Dittrich, an assistant clinical director with Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care, notes that it’s not uncommon  to have to take into account the safety of a patient’s medicine cabinet.

For every patient, we deal with the patient and families. That’s part of [what we do] — not only supporting the patient but also supporting the caregiver,” she says.

[The medicine cabinet issue] is definitely not with every patient, but we do have situations where there are smaller children in the house and things like that.

Not only is it not uncommon, but the reality of the situation is that it’s not something families should be ashamed or afraid of talking about. It is, however, a realistic situation everyone should be aware of: 95 percent of accidental medication overdoses occur when the person ingesting the medication is unsupervised.

Palliative Care Medications to be Aware of 

While the compromise of a patient’s palliative care medicine cabinet typically varies by situation and is evaluated by the Crossroads team on a case-by-case basis, it almost always boils down to one of two kinds. The first being accidental:

We could have children around so we always need to keep them safe,” Gretchen says. “We also have elderly, we have people in the household who may have dementia or some type of confusion and forgetfulness so we put safety measures in place to help those family members.”

In those types of cases, simple measures along the lines of introducing lock boxes or other locking mechanisms can often do the trick.

However, addressing medicine cabinet security becomes a bit murkier when the case falls into the second scenario type these situations boil down to: intentional.

Again — this is not uncommon and it is always better to be aware of it than be ashamed.

Then we also deal with a population that may have a history of abuse,” Gretchen says of intentional breaches of palliative care medicine cabinets. “Maybe it’s family or relatives that are coming in and out to say their goodbyes or just to care. We also have those instances.

To put it rather bluntly, drug abuse is an epidemic in the United States. More families than not have members who battle with addiction, which makes it all the more important to understand what drugs can potentially be at risk.

Anything that’s a narcotic, anything that’s a controlled substance,” Gretchen explains. “It could be pain meds, anxiety meds; there are all kinds of different situations and abuses that go on. That’s always something that we’re thinking about and evaluating on a case-by-case basis.”

One point Gretchen feels necessary to make clear was that someone who is looking for a drug to abuse can abuse just about anything from OxyContin to Robitussin to Sudafed to benzodiazepines and beyond.

What Can be Done? 

Gretchen talks about the attention Crossroads gives these situations.

We try to keep our eye on everything. We do narc counts, we do contracts. We’ve got a lot of [systems] in place for these types of situations.

Aside from the narcotics counts, the contracts and the aforementioned recommended use of common lock boxes, Gretchen recommends methods such as establishing a particular family member to guard the palliative care medication and the concept of disposing medications in kitty litter if they are for some reason no longer of need.

But again, before putting any of these types of measures into place, you are urged to discuss the situation with your palliative care team. Meaningful conversations are, after all, one of the most important aspects of your hospice and/or palliative care experience.

It’s a lot of conversation. It’s a lot of feeling out a situation in a home. Observations,” Gretchen says.  

“It’s not like there’s one particular thing you do. There are a lot of things that we do and it [requires] constant reinforcement.

All in all, whether you’re concerned about a little one stumbling upon potentially dangerous palliative care medications or another family seeking them out with intent for abuse, Crossroads is here to help guide both patients and families through these situations. It’s just another part of the all-encompassing level of care that Crossroads strives to provide.

Find out more about the palliative care benefits Crossroads offers today by calling 1-888-564-3405.


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Copyright © 2016 Crossroads Hospice. All rights reserved.

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