Organizing your medication for your health and safety – medicine cabinet 101
Reading time 10 minutes
How to Store Pharmaceuticals
My guest blogger is Laura Schwecherl who is writing for Health Perch a digital magazine from the USA. Many of the tips in this article apply no matter where you live. BY
Cholesterol-lowering pills and allergy eye drops may reside on the bed stand. The medicine cabinet probably holds a cluster of medications (antacids, asthma inhalers, antibiotics) and a few stray ibuprofen may even float around the bottom of your handbag. More than one-third of American adults regularly use over-the-counter medications and 65 percent of all adults in the U.S. (roughly 131 million people) use prescription drugs. Not all of us know how to store and dispose of medications safely.
We’ve got your medicine cabinet covered with a comprehensive guide on storing and disposing of prescription and over the counter drugs. Read on to learn how to stay out of harm’s way.
The Best Way to Store Your Meds
Up to 50 percent of chronic disease patients (for instance people with arthritis, asthma, cancer, COPD, and diabetes) fail to follow directions and take their medicine as prescribed. A simple misstep can lead to higher health risks and medical bills.
One way to avoid this problem is to stay organized. While some households store meds in a number of locations, it’s easier to keep track when they’re all in one place. Try to make medicine taking a part of your daily routine (whether it’s right after breakfast, before dinner, or before bed—whatever your doctor suggests based on the requirements of each medication) and stick to a schedule. Pill organizers are another great way to prevent confusion if you or a family member takes multiple pills a day. It’s also a great idea to take an inventory of your prescriptions at least once every six months.
When choosing a place to keep prescriptions, seek a spot that stays cool and dry, such as a kitchen drawer away from appliances (heat and moisture can damage pills). For this reason, a medicine cabinet in the bathroom may not live up to its name, unless the bathroom is well ventilated with fans or windows.
Travel poses its own obstacles. If you’re travelling in the car, don’t keep medicine in the glove compartment, which can get very hot. If you’re flying, pack prescriptions in a carry-on bag in case your luggage is lost or temporarily delayed. Pack medicine in the original bottle and take a copy of your prescription to avoid any trouble with security.
The Best Way to Dispose of Meds
This isn’t a simple toss in the trash situation. Discarding pills is a matter of safety: Many medicines are unsafe if taken by the wrong person. Medications that have passed the expiration date can also be dangerous.
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) provides specific guidelines to dispose of prescriptions safely.
Take old, unused, or expired prescriptions out of the bottle. Place them all together without the original packaging and take them to your nearest pharmacy. This helps prevent others from getting into pills. (Every year, more than 60,000 kids go to the emergency room because they took medicine that wasn’t theirs.)
Experts have mixed feelings about flushing prescriptions down the toilet. Some question it due to trace amounts of drug residues found in surface water. Groups including the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have closely monitored this issue.
The simple rule of thumb? Only flush medications if the label or your doctor says it’s safe. (Here’s a list of meds that can take a trip down the toilet.)
To ensure safety on all fronts, head to a designated drop off site. There are also many community take-back programs for old medicines. Head to the DEA website to see what’s available near you.
Check with your local pharmacy. If you are a customer, they will take your expired medication and get rid of it for you.
Popping pills isn’t a one-and-done endeavor. There are some easy guidelines to make sure you take prescriptions the intended way. Additionally, you can pledge to store medications safely and learn more about pharmaceutical safety at Up and Away.
So without further adieu, here are 14 tips to make sure you store and take medications safely.
Always ask. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist. They’re the experts when it comes to the proper way to take, store, and get rid of them.
Check the expiration date. Always check the expiration date on the bottle. Expired medicines may not only be ineffective, they could be harmful too.
Look for warning signs. Check for pills that look discoloured or dried out. If anything looks funky, take a picture and call your doctor to make sure it’s still safe to consume.
Never reuse and recycle. Still, have that prescription cough medicine that expired in 2012? Always discard leftover medicine even if you think you may use it again. It’s always best to have a doctor prescribe new medicine despite any similar symptoms.
Keep it in the same container. The bottle’s tint helps protect pills from light and lists important information including the name of the prescription when to take it, and your pharmacy’s number for when it’s time for a refill.
Don’t mix meds. Many pills look similar, and it’s easier than one might think to accidentally pop the wrong one.
Remove the cotton. Some pill bottles come with cotton inside to help protect pills that are shipped from online pharmacies. Remove the cotton as soon as you open the bottle. The cotton attracts moisture, which could decrease the medication’s strength.
Separate from your spouse. Keep your medicines separate from your spouse or other family members to lower the chances of mixing.
Open in a safety zone. Open meds on a countertop so you can rest the bottle on a flat surface. There’s always a chance of a pill slipping out of the bottle, and you don’t want to lose it on the floor or down a drain.
Keep the lights on. Don’t take pills in the dark or in bad lighting. Good light helps ensure you take the right pill and the correct dose.
Lock ‘em out. It’s crucial to lock your prescriptions in a drawer if you have small kids.
Close it tight. Use that arm strength to close the lid tight. This also helps childproof the bottles.
Be prepared in case of an emergency. Call your poison control center immediately if you think a child may have taken one of your prescriptions. Save the number on your phone so you can dial it right away.
By now, you should be an expert on pill safety—from storage and use to proper disposal. Stick to these guidelines (and some common sense) and you’ll be on the fast track to health.
Share how you organize your medications in the comments. My 91 year old dad made an Excel spreadsheet to track the timing of his eye drops after he had cataract surgery.
Julie Stobbe is a Trained Professional Organizer and Lifestyle Organizing Coach who brings happiness to homes and organization to offices, in person and virtually. She has been working with clients since 2006 to provide customized organizing solutions to suit their individual needs and situation. She uses her love of physical activity to reduce clutter, in your home and office. She guides and supports you to manage your time. If you’re in a difficult transition Julie can coach you to break-free of emotional clutter constraining you from living life on your terms. Online courses are available to help instruct, coach and support your organizing projects. Get started by downloading Tips for Reorganizing 9 Rooms.
Contact her at email@example.com
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A couple of things I learned after my father passed away:
Pharmacies (in Ontario at least) will take any medication, prescription or not, and whether it came from their store or not, so there’s really no excuse to flush or throw them in the garbage. Better safe than sorry!
They won’t take back bottles that bear the patient’s name, so remove pills from the containers before you go to the store.
Thanks for the information Janet. I do medication recycling for my clients and I have found the pharmacies to be very easy to work with too.
What a great article! Thank you for all of your advice and information. It definitely motivated me to give it a try. Keep up the good job!
I am glad you enjoyed the article. Most medications can be recycled at your local pharmacy.