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Storing medicine safely

Alternative Names

Medicine storage

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Many people store their medications in the bathroom. But this popular spot is actually one of the worst places to keep medicine. Bathroom cabinets tend to be warm and humid, an environment that speeds up a drug's breakdown process.

This is especially true for tablets and capsules. Being exposed to heat and moisture can make medicines less potent before their expiration date. For example, a warm, muggy environment can cause aspirin tablets to break down into acetic acid (vinegar) and salicylic acid, both of which can irritate the stomach.

Instead, keep medicines in a cool, dry, secure place out of a child's reach. You may need to use a locked cabinet or box. If you must keep your medicines in the bathroom, keep the containers tightly closed. If you store medicines in a kitchen, keep them away from the stove, sink, and any hot appliances.

Consider refilling your prescriptions each month, instead of every 3 months to make sure they are still potent.

In rare cases, medicine that is improperly stored can become toxic. To prevent danger, follow these tips:

  • Always store drugs out of children's reach.
  • Always keep medicines in their original container.
  • Don't leave the cotton plug in a medicine bottle. This can draw moisture into the container.
  • Check the expiration date each time you take a drug. Replace any medications that are out of date.
  • Never use a medication that has changed color, texture, or odor, even if it has not expired. Throw away capsules or tablets that stick together, are harder or softer than normal, or aer cracked or chipped.
  • Ask your pharmacist about any specific storage instructions.

Be aware that children or adolescents can get hold of their parents' unused sedative or painkiller prescriptions and abuse them or accidentally poison themselves.

Throw out unused medicine safely and promptly by using the procedures recommended by the Food and Drug Administration. This includes placing medicines in a sealed bag in your trash, mixed with coffee grounds, kitty litter, or other inedible substances. You can also ask the pharmacist for advice on how to throw out old medicines. Use community "drug give back" programs if they are available.

Travelers need to follow these tips for safely storing their medications:

  • Before leaving home, list all your medications, as well as the name and number of your pharmacist and doctor.
  • Pack your medicine in a carry-on bag instead of a checked suitcase.
  • Bring an extra supply with you in case your return is delayed.
  • Never leave medicines in a car. Heat can quickly destroy the drug.
  • Watch time changes. Set a separate watch to your usual time so you can remember when to take your medicine.

More information on travel tips and safe storage of medicines is available from the American Society of Health Systems Pharmacists at www.safemedication.com.

References

Crichton B. Keep in a cool place: exposure of medicines to high temperatures in general practice during a British heatwave. J R Soc Med. 2004;97:328–329.

Karch AM. When it's time to clean out the medicine cabinet. Am J Nurs. 2002; 102(2): 23.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. How to dispose of unused medications. Updated October 14, 2009. Accessed March 26, 2011.


Review Date: 3/26/2011
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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