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When it comes to drafting your spring cleaning checklist, it’s easy to target those dusty corners you’ve neglected all winter and the landscaping that needs freshened up. But one place that is often overlooked is your medicine cabinet.


April 20, 2017

According to a 2017 Consumer Report survey,* 19 percent of those surveyed haven’t cleaned out their medicine cabinet in over three years. And depending on what you’ve been prescribed, extending your spring cleaning to your medicine cabinet and practicing proper disposal is a great way to ensure a safe spring season for you and your family.

Should It Stay or Should It Go?

To begin your cleanout, start with an audit of your medicine cabinet. Take everything out and separate into piles: non-perishables (supplies like Band-Aids), expired medications, and non-expired medications. To know if a medication is expired, check the label − it will usually list the date, which is the last day the manufacturer guarantees the full potency and safety of the medication.

Once you’ve sorted into piles, do a deep dive into the non-expired medications. Even though they are technically “safe” according to the expiration date, it’s a good idea to check the contents. Do they look chalky or different in appearance? Do they smell different? If so, the medication may have been damaged by moisture and should be disposed of.

MedExpress Pro Tip: If the medicine doesn’t have an expiration date, it is best to play it safe and dispose of one year after purchase.

medicine cabinet

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Safe storage is key. Expiration dates are determined on the assumption that the unopened package is stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Medicine cabinets, which are often exposed to humidity in bathrooms, are not ideal. Instead, clear off some space on a high closet shelf for storage.

If you have small children, this is even more important. Aim to store medicine in an area that is too high for children to see or reach. Never leave medicine or vitamins out in the open, like on a nightstand or kitchen counter, even if you’ll be giving another dose in just a few hours. And don’t rely on safety caps – some children can break into these bottles. But as a rule of thumb, always keep turning the safety cap until you hear a click.

MedExpress Pro Tip: Never tell your child that medicine is candy; this can influence them to ingest more without your supervision.

When in Doubt, Throw It Out

When it comes to disposal, you have a few options:

Community Events

Contact your local police or fire department for information about any collections they may be planning. Bi-annually, the U.S Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) works with state and local law enforcement agencies to host National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day (this year it’s on April 29). To find a collection site near you, click here or you can call the DEA Office of Diversion Control’s call center at 1-800-882-9539.

If there are no local events near you, have no fear. There are other ways to safely dispose of unwanted medication. National pharmacies, like Walgreen’s, offer either drop-off kiosks or have special envelopes at the pharmacy counter that can be used to mail away unwanted or expired medications.

Alternatively, there are methods of disposing medication at home.

Disposing At Home

  • Crush solid medications or dissolve in water. Don’t flush any medication down the toilet as this can lead to trace amounts of medicine in the water supply.
  • Mix medicines with unpalatable substances like dirt or coffee grounds. This helps to conceal the medications if someone were to go through your garbage.
  • Place in a sealed container like a plastic bag or the original container and then place in your household trash
  • If you’re disposing of the prescription bottles, be sure to scratch off or black out personal information with a marker. This will help against medical identity theft.

MedExpress Pro Tip: Sharing isn’t caring. Never give leftover prescriptions to friends or family.

*Source: Easy Steps for Getting Rid of Unused Medication. Consumer Reports. Updated March 20, 2017.

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