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Store and Dispose of Medications Safely


Owning and taking medications comes with the responsibility to use the medicine as intended. You should also prevent others from using medication that was intended for you. Medications come in many forms, including pills, capsules, gels, chewables, liquids, creams, eye or ear drops, nasal sprays, inhalers, vitamins, and dietary supplements. No matter what form they take, medications that are meant to keep you healthy can cause harm if they are not stored and disposed of responsibly.

Medication Safety

Disclaimer: The information on this page is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or instruction from a health care professional. Always take medication as prescribed or according to manufacturer's instructions. Consult with your doctor, pharmacist or other health care provider before changing your medication habits.

Storage

It is important to store medications safely. Some medicines can become less effective or work in undesired ways if not stored correctly. And, storing your medications properly also helps prevent them from theft and misuse by others. Here are some tips to keep your medications safe.

  • Review your full list of medications with your pharmacist and ask if any of them have specific storage instructions.
  • Keep them away from heat, moisture, or humidity. Despite its name, your bathroom medicine cabinet may be the worst place to keep your medications. Heat, air, direct sunlight, and moisture (including humidity) can change how your medications work. Choose a drawer or cabinet away from windows and moisture sources.
  • Keep them secure. Did you know that most people who misuse or abuse prescription medications get them from family and friends? If other people have access to your home, store your medications out of sight of most visitors and consider investing in a lock box, medication safe, lockable drawer, or other secure container to store your medications. 
  • Keep them in their original containers. If you use pill organizers to manage your medications, put only the medicines you need for a reasonable time in the organizers and keep the rest in the original containers. Do not combine different types of medications into the same bottle.
  • Do not store other items in your medication containers. This includes the packing that comes with many new bottles of medicine; remove and discard it upon opening for the first time.

Disposal

Keeping medications past their usefulness can be dangerous. The chemicals in some medications can change over time, causing them to become less helpful or actually harmful, even if used as directed. Also, keeping medications in your home that you do not need increases the risk that someone else may use them, either by accident or on purpose. Here are tips for disposing of medications that you will no longer take or that have passed the expiration date on their label.

  • Ask your pharmacist. Tell them the name of the medications that you wish to dispose of and ask about the most appropriate means of disposal.
  • For medications that can be disposed of in the regular trash: Mix the medicine with an undesirable substance, such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds first. Then, place them into a sealed bag, bottle, or container to keep other people or animals from consuming them. Do not crush tablets or capsules that will be disposed of in the regular trash.
  • For medications that cannot be thrown in the regular trash: Check with local pharmacies, law enforcement agencies, or trash and recycling providers about medication disposal guidelines and options (e.g., drop box sites or Drug Take Back Day activities) in your community.
  • Do not flush any medications down the sink or toilet unless the package or your doctor or pharmacist specifically instructs you to do so.
  • Before you throw out any pill bottles, boxes, or containers, remove or destroy any information on it such as your name, or prescription number.
  • Follow any specific disposal instructions on the package or Drug Facts labels of non-prescription medications.