Where do you keep your medicines? Are they in different places—some in the medicine cabinet, in the kitchen, in the bedroom or elsewhere? Can you find them easily when needed? Do you know how to safely dispose of them? Safe use of medicine includes safe storage and disposal. Learn more below.
It’s important to organize and keep track of your medicines. You want to know where a particular medicine is when you need it. Always keep your medicines secure so that a toddler, beloved pet, meddling teenager, or visiting houseguest, cannot access them. Some medicines, like prescription pain medications, have a “street value” and are stolen from the medicine cabinets of friends and family members.
Approximately 60,000 young children are brought to the emergency room each year because they got into medicines that were left within reach. Are all of the medicines in your home stored up and away and out of the sight of children?
- Inventory the medicines in your home every six months.
- Check expiration dates on bottles or package—you don’t want to take any medicine that may no longer work the way it’s supposed to. Don’t take discolored, dried out, or crumbling medicines. Check the expiration dates for eye drops and eardrops. They may no longer be effective and could be a breeding ground for bacteria or fungus. Dispose of expired or unneeded medicines.
- Discard leftover prescription medicines from previous illnesses. Never treat yourself (or anyone else) with unused or old prescription medicine. Symptoms might seem similar to what you had before.
- However, the cause could be different or the medicine may not be the right one this time around.
Once you identify the medicines you want to keep, the next step is to find a safe place to keep them.
- Pick a location that is up and out of sight: a kitchen cabinet or shelf in a hallway closet. Keep medicines away from crawling babies, toddlers and pets that may put what they find in their mouths. According to SafeKids Worldwide, 23% of young children who got into medicines and ended up in the emergency room had found pills/tablets on the ground, and nearly 20% got into medicines stored in purses or diaper bags.
- Be aware that theft /abuse of prescription medicines—especially pain and ADHD medications is a serious problem. You have an essential role in keeping these powerful medicines out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. Store them in a secure location in your home.
- Store your medicine in a convenient area that is cool and dry: Heat and humidity can damage medicines. The bathroom is usually not a good place to keep medicines unless the room is well ventilated. Some medicines require refrigeration, so check the information on the medicine bottle or label.
More medicine storage tips
- Separate your medicines your spouse or other family members- on a different shelf or a separate side of a shelf. This will make it less likely for you to take the wrong ones by mistake.
- Use a countertop or tabletop
near where you take your medicine so when you open the bottle it is resting on
a flat surface. If you drop the dose, it will land on the tabletop and not be
lost down the drain or on the floor. Never leave your medicine bottles out on
,especially if there are young children, teenagers or grandchildren in the house.
- Have good lighting near where you store your medicines to make sure you are taking the right medicine. Never take medicines in the dark.
- Keep the medicine in the bottle it came in. The amber color of prescription containers protects the medicine from light. The label information will tell you what the medicine is, the dosage and how often to take it. The label will have the phone number of the pharmacy so you can call when it is time for a refill.
- If you use a weekly pillbox: Keep the original bottles so that you can quickly access dosing information and refill information that are printed on the bottle or packaging.
- Never mix different medicines in the same bottle. You might end up taking the wrong one by mistake.
- Keep the lids on your pill bottles tightly closed. A cap can’t be child resistant if it’s not closed correctly.
Disposal of prescription and OTC medicines
Most prescription and OTC medicines can be thrown away in the household trash. A few best practices are outlined below.
Tips for proper medicine disposal
- Mix the medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds. This prevents thievery or diversion of medicines from the trash.
- Place the mixture in a container such as a zip-lock or sealable plastic bag. Throw the container away in your household trash.
- Remove the label and scratch off all personal information on the label when disposing of a prescription vial
- Flush prescription medications down the toilet only if the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs doing so , such as prescription pain relievers that have a high potential to be abused; check the FDA’s list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing. Otherwise, medicines can be thrown away in the household trash.
- Take advantage of pharmacy “take-back” programs or solid waste programs to dispose of unused or expired medicines.