Safe medicine storage & disposal

Where do you keep your medicines? Are they in different places—some in the medicine cabinet, some in the kitchen, and some in the bedroom or elsewhere? Can you find them when you need them? And do you know how to safely dispose of them? Safe use of medicine also includes safe storage and disposal. Learn more below.

Storage

It’s important that you organize and keep track of your medicines. After all, you want to know where a particular medicine is when you or someone else needs it. Always keep your medicines secure so that a curious toddler, a beloved pet, a meddling teenager, or even a visiting houseguest, does not get into them. (Some medicines, like prescription pain medications, have a “street value” and are stolen out of the medicine cabinets of friends and family members.)

  • Take an inventory of the medicines you have in your home every six months.
  • Check the expiration date on the bottle or package—you don’t want to take any chances with a medicine that no longer works the way it’s supposed to. Don’t take medicines that are discolored, dried out, or crumbling. Check the expiration date for eye drops and eardrops, too. They may no longer be effective and, worse, could be a breeding ground for bacteria or fungus. Dispose of expired or unneeded medicines.
  • Discard leftover prescription medicines from a previous illness or condition. You should never try to treat yourself (or anyone else) with an unused /old prescription medicine. Your symptoms might seem similar to what you had before, but the cause could be different or the medicine may not be the right one this time around.

Now that you’ve identified 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 away and out of sight, like a kitchen cabinet or shelf in a hallway closet. Keep medicines away from crawling babies, curious toddlers and playful 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 and abuse of prescription medicines—especially prescription pain and ADHD medications—is a serious problem. You can play a role in keeping these powerful medicines out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them by storing them in a secure location in your home.
  • Store your medicine in an area that is convenient, but is also cool and dry—since heat and humidity can damage medicines. The bathroom is usually not a good place to keep your 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

  1. Keep your medicines separate from those of your spouse or other family members (for instance, on a different shelf or at least on a separate side of a shelf). This will make it less likely that you take the wrong ones by mistake.
  2. Use a countertop or tabletop near where you take your medicine so you can open the bottle with it resting on the flat surface. In case you drop your pill, it will land on the tabletop and not be lost down the drain or on the floor. Never leave your medicine bottles out on the counter, especially if there are young children, teenagers or grandchildren in the house.)
  3. Have good lighting near where you store your medicines to help you make sure you are taking the right medicine. Never take medicines in the dark.
  4. Keep the medicine in the bottle it came in. The amber color of prescription containers protects the medicine from light. You will also have the label information right there about what the medicine is, its dosage and how often to take it. The label will also have the phone number of the pharmacy so you can call when it is time for a refill.
  5. If you do use a weekly pillbox to help you remember to take your medicines, keep the original bottles so that you can quickly access dosing information and refill information that are generally printed on the bottle or packaging.
  6. Never mix different medicines in the same bottle. You might end up taking the wrong one by mistake.
  7. 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

  1. 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.
  2. Then, place the mixture in a container such as a zip-lock or sealable plastic bag, and throw the container away in your household trash.
  3. Remove the label and/or scratch off all personal information on the label when disposing of a prescription vial.
  4. Flush prescription medications down the toilet only if the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs doing so (i.e., for specific medications, 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.
  5. Take advantage of pharmacy “take-back” programs or solid waste programs to dispose of unused or expired medicines.