We all have a tendency to hang on to things longer than we should. Most of the time, it does no real harm. But when it comes to medications, keeping them past their expiration dates can be deadly.
All prescription drugs have an expiration date on the bottle label. Over-the-counter medications will have an expiration date as well. If you have a medication in your medicine cabinet that doesn’t have a date on it and you can’t remember when you purchased it, the safe thing would be to toss it. Expired medications can break down and change with time, rendering them useless and ineffective or, even worse, very harmful. For example, tetracycline, a commonly prescribed antibiotic, can cause a deadly skin infection if taken after it expires. If you come across any medications that are discolored, separated, crumbly, powdery or smelly, throw them away regardless of the expiration date.
It may be tempting to simply throw your old medications into the trash, however, it can be easy for pets and children to get to them. Flushing them down the toilet may also be an option, but this can sometimes introduce medications into the water supply. A better option is to take them to a pharmacy where they can be disposed of as medical waste.
A medicine cabinet may seem like the most obvious place for you to store your medications, but this space is better left to toothpaste and soap. The humidity in the bathroom or kitchen, another common place for people to keep their medications, can cause medications to break down quickly and even expire before their estimated date. The best place to keep your medications is in a cool, dark place such as a closet or cabinet. If you have small children, I recommend you keep medications in a locked tackle-type box to prevent accidental overdoses.
When it comes to keeping a well-stocked medicine cabinet, I recommend you keep the following medications and supplies on-hand:
— Activated charcoal
— Antibiotic cream
— Anti-diarrea medication
— Antiseptic solution to clean cuts
— Calamine lotion to treat bug bites and other itchy problems
— Cold and cough medications
— Cold pack
— Cotton balls and swabs
— Eye wash and drops
— Petroleum jelly
— Scissors and tweezers
— Syrup of ipecac
Once you’ve got your medicine supply back on par and organized, I recommend you take inventory once a year to restock medications that you have used-up or that are expired.
Medication safety tips:
— Remember to finish any course of antibiotics your doctor prescribes, even if you begin to feel better after just a couple of days. This is important to prevent antibiotic resistance.
— Don’t transfer any medications into the containers for other medications. Someone may mistakenly take your prescription medication when they really needed an over-the-counter pain reliever.
— Never share medications with friends or family. Even if it seems like they have the same illness or symptoms as you did, only a physician can diagnose and should prescribe medications.
— Always keep a list with you of medications — prescription, over-the-counter and herbal — that you take along with dosages and frequency. In case of an emergency, this could be extremely valuable in preventing drug interactions. Even some vitamins and many herbal supplements can react negatively with common medications or render them ineffective.