It’s Time to Start an Annual Medicine Cabinet Clear-out

It’s 2020, so use the New Year as your medicinal spring cleaning. Now’s the time to toss outdated prescriptions from your overflowing medicine cabinet. Pharmacists recommend looking at every ointment and supplement for color that’s changed or odor that’s turned noxious. Check to see if prescriptions have turned cloudy or vitamins expired. These are warning signs that your medicine cabinet staples are no longer effective and, even worse, they may no longer be safe.

The stability of medicine once opened can’t be guaranteed. Opened medicine can be contaminated with germs that can render some prescriptions useless even before the expiration date. Better to toss medicine that’s not in the original bottle if you can’t identify it.

The bathroom is convenient, but…

Speaking of the stability of medicine, the bathroom is not the best place for your medicine cabinet. Showers and baths raise humidity and temperature, and both can reduce the strength of some medicines. Heat and moisture can easily damage pills and capsules. Aspirin pills break down into vinegar and salicylic acid and these can irritate the stomach.

So, while the bathroom may seem the most convenient place to store medications, the ideal location would be another room that’s dry and cool away from heat and light. Take the cotton ball—which draws moisture into the medicine bottle—out of the bottle. Store medicine in a top dresser drawer in the bedroom. You can store medicine in a (locked) box on a closet shelf. Use a kitchen cabinet away from the stove, sink and any hot appliances.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the refrigerator is a great place to keep medicine. There’s enough humidity in refrigerators —just as in bathrooms—to affect the stability of some medications that don’t require refrigeration. And, of course, medicines should always be kept safely out of the reach of children.

Use even more caution with antibiotics

And while it’s a good idea to get into the habit of checking expiration dates on any medication before taking it, you should be even more careful about antibiotics, pharmacists say. Only take antibiotics for the time your doctor has prescribed. Don’t plan on keeping them after that period. Using antibiotics that you’ve stashed away is likely not only to be ineffective but could lead to resistance to the antibiotic.

Be careful how you throw away medicines so that your discards don’t become a hazard to someone else. Landfill and water supplies become tainted when people toss outdated medicines into their garbage or flush them down the toilet, so make sure if you flush anything that the label states that you can flush it. Before throwing medicine into the trash, remove the medicine from the container and mix in something such as dirt, kitty litter or coffee grounds. Seal the entire mixture in an empty can or bag to prevent leakage, and discard.

Ask your pharmacy for an eco-friendly disposal

A better idea is to return the medicine to your pharmacist and ask them to handle disposal. Use “drug give back” programs if your community makes one available.

If you didn’t throw out old medicines in 2019, protect the health of yourself, your family and those in your home. Make a medicine cabinet clear-out one of your New Year’s resolutions and do it responsibly.

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