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How should I handle hazardous medications such as chemotherapy drugs?

Sometimes, the best care involves medications that are helpful to the patient but are very strong — and can be dangerous to hospital staff, children, or pets. These hazardous medications can include chemotherapy (cancer medications), biotherapy (medications that stimulate the body’s immune system), and immunosuppressants (medications that suppress the immune system).

When a hazardous medication is prescribed to be taken at home, only the patient should handle the medication if possible. Following are some notes about specific types of medications.    

Handling and taking capsules or tablets:
•  Do not crush or break pills unless your doctor tells you to, and wash your hands after taking the medication.
• If you are giving the medication: Use protective gloves (made of latex or nitrile), and wash your hands after removing the gloves.

Handling and taking oral liquids:
• Wear protective gloves (made of latex or nitrile) when handling medication, and wash your hands after removing the gloves.
• Use an oral syringe to measure each dose. This helps avoid spills. Store the syringe with the medication.
•  Clean up spilled medication right away. (Paper towels or cloths used to clean a spill can be put in the regular trash.)

Handling and using ointments, creams, or lotions:
•  Wash your hands before and after applying the medication.
• If you are applying the medication for someone else, wear protective gloves (made of latex or nitrile) and then throw away the gloves immediately. Wash your hands after removing the gloves.
Cheryl Taylor
Oncology Nursing

There are national standards addressing how to handle chemotherapy drugs, the oncology nursing society submits these standards. Also, the hospital or clinic will have protocols and practice guidelines on how to handle these medications.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.