Tips for safely storing and disposing of expired, unused medicine

This article was refreshed on October 31, 2020 to reflect recent research.

Keep yourself, your family and your medicines safe.

  • Learn how to properly store medicines.
  • Eliminate the risk of your medicines losing their effectiveness.
  • Find out ways to dispose of expired medicines.

[2 MIN READ]

When you get prescription medicine, you probably put it somewhere that’s handy or that will remind you to take it. Did you know there are actually proper places to store medication? There also are good reasons to promptly get rid of expired, unused or unwanted medicine.

Proper storage of medicine

How and where you store your medicine can determine if it will be safe and effective up to its expiration date. To choose a good spot, start by checking the label for specific storage instructions. Some medications need to be kept in the refrigerator. Others don’t need to be kept cold, but they should be stored away from high temperatures.

Many of us put medications in a bathroom cabinet, but bathrooms can be damp, humid places. That moisture can degrade medicine and reduce its effectiveness before its expiration date.

To ensure a full shelf life for your medicine, pick a storage spot that’s cool and dry. A dresser drawer, closet shelf or kitchen cabinet are good spots. In the kitchen, however, keep medicine away from hot appliances and the sink so moisture and heat don’t degrade it.

Get rid of expired, unused and unwanted meds

Always keep an eye on the expiration date of your medicine. You can find the date on the label of the medicine container, usually a bottle or a box. Sometimes the expiration date follows the abbreviation “EXP.”

When medications expire, throw them out. They can be less effective or risky due to:

  • Changes in chemical composition that occur with time
  • Bacterial growth that can come with aging
  • A loss of necessary or intended strength (If an antibiotic loses its potency, it can fail to treat an infection and lead to antibiotic resistance.)

It’s equally important to throw away unwanted or unused medications to make sure they aren’t misused. Opioids are one type of medication that shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands. The opioid epidemic continues to impact communities, families and individuals across the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 128 people die from an opioid overdose every day. That’s 128 reasons to ensure you dispose of your prescription medicines properly.

What to do with expired, unused medicine

There are several ways to dispose of medication. First, check the medicine’s label for any disposal instructions. If there are none, the ideal way to get rid of expired meds is to give them to a drug take-back program.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) organizes nationwide Take Back Days twice a year – in October and April – to safely collect and dispose of medicine. There are also year-round collection sites where you can dispose of unused prescription medicines throughout the community.

If you’re unable to visit a collection site, the next-best option is to dispose of expired or unwanted medicines in your household trash by mixing them with an unpleasant substance, such as kitty litter, dirt or coffee grounds.

Don’t crush or break tablets or capsules. Seal the mixture in a container, such as a plastic bag, and drop it in the trash. Before you throw out the medicine’s original container, scratch out any personal information on the prescription label.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Body & Mind Team is dedicated to providing medically-sound, data-backed insights and advice on how to reach and maintain your optimal health through a mixture of exercise, mindfulness, preventative care and healthy living in general.

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