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Storing your medicines

Alternative names

Medications - storing

Description

Where you store your medicine can affect how well it works. Learn about storing your medicine properly to keep it from getting damaged.

Store medicines safely

Take care of your medicine.

  • Know that heat, air, light, and moisture may damage your medicine.
  • Store your medicines in a cool, dry place. For example, store it in your dresser drawer or a kitchen cabinet away from the stove, sink, and any hot appliances. You can also store medicine in a storage box, on a shelf, in a closet.
  • If you are like most people, you probably store your medicine in a bathroom cabinet. But the heat and moisture from your shower, bath, and sink may damage your medicine. Your medicines can become less potent, or they may go bad before the expiration date.
  • Pills and capsules are easily damaged by heat and moisture. Aspirin pills break down into vinegar and salicylic acid. This irritates the stomach.
  • Always keep medicine in its original container.
  • Take the cotton ball out of the medicine bottle. The cotton ball pulls moisture into the bottle.
  • Ask your pharmacist about any specific storage instructions.

Keep children safe.

  • Always store your medicine out of reach and out of sight of children.
  • Store your medicine in a cabinet with a child latch or lock.

Do not take damaged medicine

Damaged medicine may make you sick. Do not take:

  • Medicine that has changed color, texture, or smell, even if it has not expired
  • Pills that stick together, are harder or softer than normal, or are cracked or chipped

Get rid of old medicines

  • Check the expiration date on your medicine. Throw out medicines that are out of date.
  • Do not keep old or unused medicine around. It goes bad and you should not use it.

Get rid of unused medicine safely and promptly.

  • Do not flush your medicine down the toilet. This is bad for the water supply.
  • To throw away medicine in the trash, first mix your medicine with something that ruins it, such as coffee grounds or kitty litter. Put the entire mixture in a sealed plastic bag.
  • You can also bring unused medicines to your pharmacist.
  • Use community "drug give back" programs if they are available.
  • Visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration web site for more information: How to dispose of unused medications.

Traveling with medicine

Do not keep medicine in the glove compartment of your car. Medicine can get too hot, cold, or wet there.

If you are taking an airplane, keep your medicine in your carry-on luggage. To help with security at the airport:

  • Keep medicine in the original bottles.
  • Ask your doctor for a copy of all your prescriptions. You may need this in case you lose, run out, or damage your medicine.
  • If you have diabetes, ask your doctor for a letter explaining that you have diabetes and providing a list of all your supplies. You are allowed to carry your medicine, blood glucose meter, and lancet device on a plane.

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor for:

  • New prescriptions before you throw out your old medicine
  • A letter describing your condition, medicines, and supplies when needed

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Put your medicines up and away and out of sight. December 12, 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/MedicationStorage. Accessed on May 10, 2014.

The Center for Improving Medication Management and the National Council on Patient Information and Education. The quick scoop: medicines and your family: safely storing and disposing of medicines. 2014. http://www.learnaboutrxsafety.org/quick-scoop.aspx#safely. Accessed May 10, 2014.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. How to dispose of unused medications. December 24, 2013. Accessed May 10, 2014.


Review Date: 5/11/2014
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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