Healthy Aging

New Years Resolutions for your Medicine Cabinet

While the end of the year brings many people’s attention to reflecting on the year that was as well as the holidays, it also provides an opportunity to take inventory of your prescription medications. Are there drugs in your medicine cabinet you aren’t using anymore? What about ones that are expired? Are you storing them properly? Here are 5 things to do about your medicines by the end of the year.

Get rid of leftovers

You shouldn’t have prescription medicine that you don’t need any more hanging around. Some drugs, like antibiotics, are prescribed for a short period of time and the instructions are to keep taking them until the bottle is empty, even if you feel better. When you’ve recovered from your ailment, get rid of any excess pills safely and properly. Many drug stores will take unwanted medications off your hands. Many drug chains, including Walgreens, have a safe medication disposal kiosk in a number of its stores. You can also get rid of medication in the trash, though you must mix it first with substances that can mask it, such as dirt, coffee grounds or cat litter. Flushing your medicine down the toilet is not advised because it could potentially end up in the water supply.

Can I take an expired pill?

Medication is still effective and safe to use even after the expiration date. An FDA study found that about 90% of more than 100 drugs examined, both prescription and over the counter, were okay to use well after the expiration date (Exceptions include insulin, some antibiotics and nitroglycerin). If you question the safety and effectiveness of any drug, ask your pharmacist. Pharmacists are great resources and can tell you what you need to know about your medications.

What’s this drug for?

Does that bottle look vaguely familiar but you can’t quite remember what it was prescribed for? Call your doctor or take it to your pharmacist and ask. Some medicines are fine to keep on hand and use when needed. But others aren’t. A good example are opioid medications. If you were prescribed them, your pain has gone away and still have pills left, don’t keep them around. This is because of the addictive nature of opioids as well as preventing them from falling into the wrong hands.

Humidity is not your pill’s friend

Most people store their medicine in a bathroom cabinet, but the heat and moisture from your shower, bath or faucet may damage your medicine.  In the bathroom, your medicines can be become less potent or expire before the set date. They can degrade and literally fall apart. Store your medicine in a cool, dry place like a dresser drawer, but away from children.

Keep out of your grandchildren’s reach

If you have young grandchildren that visit, you need to take precautions to keep your medicines out their reach. Too many children go to the emergency room every year because they got their hands of medications that weren’t secured.

To keep children safe, pick a spot in your home to store medicine up high and out of sight. You might also think about purchasing a medication lockbox. Also, make sure the safety cap is always on the bottles and put away your medicine after each use. Treat your meds with respect, they are powerful and need to be safeguarded. 


Suzanne Robotti is founder and president of MedShadow Foundation, the independent non-profit organization that informs the public about the side effects, risks and benefits of drugs.

This article offered by Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.  

Photo credit: Freestock for UnSplash


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