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Storage of Home Medications & Proper Disposal


Pop Quiz Time!

Where is the best place to store your medications at home?

  • Medicine Cabinet

  • Refrigerator

  • Pantry or Closet

Many of us would assume the Medicine Cabinet (thus the name?), however, that is one of the WORST places you can keep your medications!! Medicine Cabinets are (usually) located in the bathroom often near a sink and/or shower where you have the most humidity and moisture in the house. That humidity and moisture can actually cause the active ingredients in your medications to break down a lot faster and possibly make them work less effectively or not at all.

Another common answer I get from people is the Refrigerator. It keeps our bread fresh longer……so why not apply that same principle to our medications, right? Well there are a few medications that do require refrigeration after opening (some insulins and injectable medications). However, most medications should not be stored in the refrigerator or freezer unless indicated. Most medications require a storage range of 66-78 F which is considered “room temperature”.

So if we shouldn’t store our medications in the Medicine Cabinet because of moisture concerns and the Refrigerator is a “no-no” unless indicated to do so the manufacturer’s instructions, where is the best place to store your medications at home? If you answered Pantry or Closet you are correct! This is the one place in the house that is usually protected from light and moisture contact for the majority of the day. Also, this area provides extra security often behind a door and on a shelf away from small children and others that should not be in contact with medications.

It’s also important to routinely check all of your medications (prescription, over-the-counter, supplements) for expiration dates regularly. If and when you need to dispose of expired medications be sure to do so properly. Many of us were taught in the past to flush expired or no longer needed medications down the toilet. This is a big no-no now, as many water treatment facilities are finding trace amounts of antibiotics and other harmful medications in our drinking water. Many counties now offer drug-take back programs that assist with discarding of unwanted medications. The current recommendation for discarding expired/unwanted medications (excluding chemotherapy):

  • Mix drugs with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter or used coffee grounds

  • Put the mixture into a disposable container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tub, or into a sealable bag.

  • Conceal or remove any personal information

  • Place the sealed container with the mixture, and the empty drug containers, in the trash

This primarily applies to tablet, capsule and liquid formulations of medications. If you are discarding a patch you should fold it in-half so that it sticks to itself before discarding to ensure no child or animal could accidentally be exposed to the medication still on the patch itself.

If you are discarding vials of insulin or needs/syringes it’s important to purchase a SHARPS container for proper disposal. Many years ago it was okay to just place needles/syringes in an old plastic laundry detergent container or coffee can. Now that is not allowed in most counties and a SHARPS container must be utilized and either mailed in or brought to a designated location for proper disposal. The SHARPS mail-in system is very convenient and efficient for most people.

For more information see the links below for the Federal Guidelines for Proper Medication Disposal and SHARPS disposal drop-off locations in California.

Remember when in doubt, ASK YOUR PHARMACIST!

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