Tips for safely storing and disposing of expired, unused medicine


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 good and bad 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 a good example of medication that shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands. “Rates of prescription drug abuse in the United States are at alarming rates, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses due to these drugs,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. “Studies show that many abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.”

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, which will make sure they are disposed of properly. National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is Saturday, April 29. You can find a take-back site in your area here. Many cities have year-round collection sites. You can find those here.

If there aren’t any collection sites in your area, 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.

For more on safely disposing of medicine, read this FAQ by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Did you know there are actually good and bad places to store medication? There are also good reasons to promptly dispose of expired or unused medications. 


About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

More Content by Providence Health Team
Previous Article
Everyday noises can cause lasting hearing damage
Everyday noises can cause lasting hearing damage

A federal study found many adults consider their hearing excellent, when in fact it has been damaged by eve...

Next Article
Science agrees: Music hath charms to tame the savage breast
Science agrees: Music hath charms to tame the savage breast

Researchers are seeing evidence that music has therapeutic power in studies focused on stress, trauma and d...