Proper Storage and Disposal of Medications
Where do you keep medications in your house? In the bathroom medicine cabinet? In a kitchen cabinet? These are two popular places for many people, but are not necessarily the best place to store medications.
Proper storage of medication is important for several reasons. Medication can lose effectiveness when not stored correctly. Since prescription medication is given to us for health purposes, whether to keep us healthy or to save our lives, taking care of it makes sense, we want it to work and work properly. Keeping children and pets is another consideration when storing medication.
Medication guides contained in prescription medication should give you an explanation on how to store your prescription medication. If the medication guide does not include this information, ask your pharmacist if there is specific information you need to know about keeping your medication safe and effective.
There are some medications that are safe to be kept in the bathroom. These are mostly gels or ointments that are topically applied, however, for pills and capsules, the high humidity of bathrooms, the constantly changing temperature (from hot showers) and the bright light all make bathrooms a poor choice for storing medication.
High kitchen cabinets are also not usually a good choice to store medicine. First, a kitchen normally has changing temperatures. Cooking and baking can cause ups and downs in temperatures and hot water, from cooking, cleaning and dishwashers, adds humidity to this room. Heat also rises, making high cabinets hotter than the rest of the room.
So if these common storage areas are not right, where should you keep your medication?
Tips for Storing Medication
- Use a lockbox. This box can help in several ways. It keeps medications out of the hands of children and keeps pets safe. It keeps medications away from strong lights. If you have medication that needs to be stored in the refrigerator, keep a lock box in the refrigerator as well. (If you have medications you may need to take quickly in case of medical emergency, be sure these are easily accessible and you will be able to get to them without fidgeting with a lockbox.)
- If you do not have specific instructions for storing the medication, assume medication should be kept away from bright lights, should be in a consistent temperature and away from humid conditions. Use "cool, dry and dark" as a guideline.
Keep in mind these guidelines should be used for all medications, not just prescription medicines. Over-the-counter medications require the same care to remain effective.
Disposing of Medications
In the past, placing medicine in the trash or flushing it down the toilet were considered proper disposal. However, we have learned there are dangers to our environment, to children and to animals through these disposal methods. This applies to both prescription and over-the-counter medications.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests the following methods for disposing of medication:
- Check the patient insert that came with your prescription medication for specific disposal instructions and follow those. Some medications can be flushed down the toilet and only those with these specific instructions should be disposed in that way.
- Take medication out of the original container, mix with coffee grounds or kitty litter, and place in a sealed container, such as a sealable plastic bag or plastic container and then place in the trash.
- Contact your pharmacy to see if they offer a disposal service. Some pharmacies will provide this service free to their customers.
- Contact your local municipality and ask how medications should be disposed of in your community. Some trash companies may offer a hazardous waste disposal.
- If you are throwing out prescription medication containers (with the medication in a separate container), remove the label or use a black permanent marker to cover all identity information.
All medications, both prescription and over-the-counter medications have an expiration date. This date indicates how long a medicine should be kept in order to remain fully effective. You should regularly check your medications to be sure any medicine past the effective date is disposed of.