Your parents might have taught you to play nice with others and that it’s nice to share. But when it comes to prescription medications, sharing isn’t caring. It can be dangerous.

The opioid epidemic is sweeping across America, and one way some people get access to prescription opioids is by sharing with friends and relatives. You might think that occasionally sharing one of your prescriptions with someone else is not a big deal – especially if they’re in pain, but there may be some unintended consequences.

“Medications are prescribed by physicians to patients under their care so they can be properly monitored to make sure the drug is working the way it should,” said John Jones, RPh, vice president, Enterprise Pharmacy, Geisinger Health System.

When you get a prescription from your doctor, whether it’s an antibiotic to take for ten days or pain medication you’ll take for a chronic condition, everything from the type of drug to the dosage is specific to you.

“Many health issues can be treated more than one way,” said Jones. “Your doctor will decide on a specific drug based on factors such as the severity of your condition, your medical history, what other prescription medications you’re taking and even your height and weight.”

If you take a drug that was meant for someone else, you could experience an allergic reaction, an interaction with other medications or serious side effects.

The person who shared the drug may also experience side effects from not taking the intended amount of medication or for the prescribed timeframe.

However, taking a friend or relative’s leftover medication is an issue, too: Outdated prescriptions lose their potency over time.

“It’s important to take prescriptions for as long as your doctor recommends on the label, even if you feel better,” said Jones.

For example, antibiotics are sometimes prescribed for ten days. While you may feel better after taking an antibiotic for a day or two, it’s important to take the full course to rid your body of the infection. This limits the chance that you’ll need to take another antibiotic.

If you do have unused medication — whether it’s prescription or over the counter — it’s important to dispose of it properly.

“All too often, unused and expired prescriptions end up in the hands of young children and teenagers,” said Jones, “but flushing your medications down the toilet or throwing them in the trash are not good solutions. That’s how they end up in landfills where they can harm the environment and eventually find their way into the water supply.”

To solve this problem, Geisinger has installed medication take-back boxes at several retail locations in central and northeast Pennsylvania. Just bring your old medications and drop them in the secured box.