Tips for Prescription Safety, Storage and Disposal

Dr. Angela Seabright
Alyssa Hadrych

| 3 min read

bottle of blue and white pills spilling out of a prescription bottle
Recent studies show as many as 60 percent of Americans take a prescription drug, so it’s important to know how to safely consume, store and dispose of these medications.
There are many different opinions on expiration dates, proper disposal or proper storage of prescription drugs, but it can be hard to differentiate between fact and fiction.
Expiration Dates
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires drug manufacturers to have expiration dates on prescription and over-the-counter drugs. This is the date up until which the drug manufacturer can guarantee safety and full potency of the drug. Generally, expiration dates range from two to three years from the time of manufacture, but some evidence has shown that the original levels of potency remain for years after. Keep in mind the following on expiration dates:
  • If the medicine is used for a life-threatening condition, such as nitroglycerin, an Epipen or insulinthen listen to the expiration date. It is important to pay attention and turn over such medications once they expire.
  • Medications used for aches, pains or heartburn, are generally okay to use past the expiration date.
  • Above all, remember to use your best judgment when evaluating medications. If it has a strong odor, change in consistency or appearance you should discard the medication immediately.
To safely preserve a prescription up until its expiration date, follow these tips provided by the National Council on Patient Information and Education:
  • Organize medications by family member to avoid ingestion of the wrong medication.
  • Keep in mind where you will open prescription bottle(s) in case something gets dropped; avoid storage in cabinets and shelving above drains and/or dirty floors.
  • Refrain from storing prescription bottles in dark places; good lighting will help to ensure you’re taking the right drug.
  • Do not dispose of original packaging—the amber containers are meant to protect medications from light and provide directions for proper use.
  • Never store multiple medications in one bottle.
  • Remove cotton balls from prescription bottles. They are meant to absorb moisture but can affect the drug if left too long.
  • Heat, humidity and moisture may damage certain medications. Store them in cool, dry, ventilated areas.
  • Consider securing medications to keep out of reach of children and protect against potential theft.
Though many people may think simply throwing old or unneeded prescriptions in the trash is an effective method of disposal, this approach can actually be dangerous in the long run. When you are ready to dispose medicines, here are a few ways you can safely clear out your cabinet:
  • Remove prescriptions from their original containers.
  • Mix medications with an adverse substance such as kitty litter or place them in a container that is impermeable and unidentifiable, such as empty cans or sealable bags.
  • Never flush prescriptions down the toilet unless the label gives specific instructions to do so.
Laurie Wesolowicz, director of pharmacy services with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, contributed to this post.
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A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
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