How to Properly Handle and Store Your Medicines

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To get the most out of your medicines, be sure you store them correctly — and safely.

Many of us keep medicines in the bathroom or on a kitchen counter. But the heat and humidity from the shower can damage medicines or make them go bad. 

Storing medicines in plain site is dangerous. Any medicine or vitamin, including those you can buy without a prescription, can cause harm if taken by the wrong person or in the wrong way.

Keep Your Medicines Safe

When your doctor prescribes a medicine for you, ask questions about the best way to safely keep and use the medicine. Your doctor and your pharmacist can provide advice. Read all labels and instructions. 

Medicines should be kept away from heat, light and moisture because these elements can damage the medicine. That means storing medicines in your bathroom is not the best place for them. 

When medicines, especially pills and capsules, are exposed to sunlight, heat and humidity, they can become less potent or go bad before their expiration date.  For example, aspirin breaks down into vinegar and salicylic acid, which can irritate the stomach.

Here are some tips for storing your medicines:

  • Store in a cool, dry place, such as a dresser drawer or a kitchen cabinet away from the stove, sink or hot appliances
  • Use a storage box, a high shelf or a closet
  • Always keep medicine in its original container
  • Take the cotton ball out of the medicine bottle. It attracts moisture.

What to Do With Damaged or Expired Medicines

Damaged medicine or medicine that is past its expiration date can make you sick if you take it. The National Council on Patient Information and Education recommends storing all of your medicine in one place and taking a medicine inventory every six months — or at least once a year.

  • Check the expiration dates on your medicines
  • Do not keep old or expired medicines
  • Do not use medicine that has changed in color, texture or smell, even if it is not expired
  • Do not take pills that stick together, are harder or softer than usual, or are cracked or chipped

If you need to throw away old medicine, be sure to get rid of it safely. Do not flush medicine down the toilet, as it can damage the water supply. Here are some ways to dispose of medicines safely: 

  • If you want to throw the medicine away with your trash, mix it with coffee grounds or kitty litter, then seal it in a plastic bag.
  • Bring unused medicines to your pharmacy.
  • Use community “drug give back” programs 
Medicines should be kept away from heat, light and moisture because these elements can damage the medicine.

Keep Children Safe

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Many medicines and vitamins can look like candy to young children. You can follow these tips to help keep your children safe:

  • Talk with children about medicine safety.
  • Never tell children that medicine is candy.
  • Always keep medicines out of reach and out of sight.
  • Store medicines in a cabinet with a lock or child latch.
  • Do not leave medicines on a kitchen counter or by the bedside.
  • Make sure the safety cap is locked. Listen for the ”click” when you close it.
  • Tell children what medicine is and why parents must be the ones to give it to them.
  • Remind babysitters, guests, grandparents and other visitors to your home to keep purses, bags or coats that may have medicine inside out of sight of children.

Traveling with Medicines

If you are taking a vacation or even just a day-trip, you should take care to safely carry any medicines that you need to bring along.

If you are traveling by car:

  • Do not keep medicine in the glove compartment of your car, as it can become too hot, cold or wet.
  • Carry medicines in a backpack, small bag or purse, and keep it with you when you exit the car.

If you are taking an airplane:

  • Keep your medicines in a carry-on bag. 
  • 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. It may also be needed at airport security.
  • If you have diabetes, ask your doctor for a letter that lists your diagnosis and needed supplies. You are allowed to carry your medicine, blood glucose meter, and lancet device on an airplane.

If you ever have any questions or concerns about your medicine, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

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