When is the last time you cleaned out your refrigerator? Did you find anything in there that was questionable and needed to be thrown away?
What about your medicine cabinet?
Medicine cabinets are notorious for accumulating expired unused medications and nutritional supplements, and this can be problematic and dangerous for you and your family members. Cleaning out your medicine cabinet at least once a year is one of the best things you can do to keep your family safe and healthy.
Heat, humidity, and sunlight are the biggest enemy of medications and supplements. It is essential to store your medications and supplements in a cool dry place protected from light, and out of reach of children. Freezing is not as big of an issue as heat for most medications, but the safest bet is to avoid freezing if possible unless the product packaging specifies otherwise. Liquid formulations tend to be more sensitive to freezing because water expands when it freezes potentially causing sealed containers to crack and leak, leaving them susceptible to contamination.
The following 4 locations are perhaps the most common yet worst places to store medications:
There are essentially 4 things that can happen as medications and supplements age:
If you ever have questions about whether something is OK to keep, or possibly bad - it's usually best to err on the side of caution. Medications and supplements may have visible signs that they degrading including changes in color, consistency, and odor - but that is not always the case and you should not rely on that.
Expiration dates are not required on certain products and therefore not included. Some products, especially supplements, do not contain expiration dates but instead include "best by" or "manufactured" dating. In these cases, it is up to user discretion.
The best way to dispose of medications, including nutritional supplements, is to take them to your local pharmacy where they will make sure they are disposed of properly. When medications are improperly disposed, they can end up in the water supply and soil, having negative impacts on animals and humans alike. Sometimes the DEA will host "drug take back" events across the country to help people properly dispose of medications, so it might be good to time your medicine cabinet clean outs with one of these events.
If you are unable to dispose of medications in one of those ways, it is recommended to at least add water, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds to the medication bottle to break them down and discourage anybody that might find the bottle from using the medication.
Unfortunately, there are people that abuse prescription medications and will go to great lengths to find those medications. Medicine cabinets are popular targets for burglars and thieves, including friends and family members that you may not realize have an addiction. Limiting the amount of unnecessary and expired medications in your house is important for limiting diversion of medications into the wrong hands. Always keep your medications out of sight, out of reach from children, and if possible - locked up.
Another major problem with the home medicine cabinet involves the intentional or unintentional poisoning. Typically we think of young children that may accidentally get into the medicine cabinet, but it is also a major problem for adults that may suffer from confusion, dementia, or visual impairment.
Cleaning out the medicine cabinet regularly can help reduce the risk of somebody accidentally taking something they shouldn't - whether a prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, or a dietary supplement.
Always store medications in the original container, or ask a pharmacist to provide you with a properly labeled secondary container if needed. Too many times I have seen people combining multiple medications into the same bottle and this is a recipe for disaster - especially if emergency responders are trying to determine what somebody may or may not have ingested.
A major reason people tend to keep medications past their expiration date is because we understand how expensive they can be. While that may be true, it is not nearly as expensive as the results of taking something you shouldn't and finding yourself in the hospital, or worse.
At least once a year you should take the time to clean out the medicine cabinet discarding all expired products as well as products you know you will not use before they expire. Replace them with new fresh products that have guaranteed purity and potency to improve the health and safety within your household.
Kyle Hilsabeck, PharmD., is the Vice President of Pharmaceutical Affairs at McCord Holdings and licensed by the Iowa Board of Pharmacy. He completed bachelors degrees in biology and biochemistry at Wartburg College before earning his Doctorate of Pharmacy from the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy. Upon graduation, he completed a community pharmacy practice residency through the University of Iowa where he focused primarily on nutritional aspects of care including the use of vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements. He has taught courses for the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy on vitamins, minerals, herbs, and nutritional supplements and given many presentations on the subject as well. He has a passion for improving patient care specifically with regards to the safety and quality of the nutritional supplements and health information people use.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been reviewed by the FDA. These products are dietary supplements and are not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The decision to use these products should be discussed with a trusted healthcare provider. The authors and the publisher of this work have made every effort to use sources believed to be reliable to provide information that is accurate and compatible with the standards generally accepted at the time of publication. The authors and the publisher shall not be liable for any special, consequential, or exemplary damages resulting, in whole or in part, from the readers’ use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this article. The publisher has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third party Internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.