Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Healthy Habits: 5 Steps for Decluttering Your Medicine Cabinet

By Sonali G. Kshatriya, PharmD

Clutter can lead to confusion, and when it comes to medication storage and safety, clutter can be dangerous. Whether you are living alone or have multiple family members sharing a medicine cabinet full of new prescriptions, old prescriptions, and over-the-counter medicines for any number of ailments, you may find yourself with a collection of unused or expired medicines. Unused and expired medicines can lead to accidental poisoning, misuse and even drug overdose. 
Your medicine cabinet should be a safe haven for all of your medicines, but if you don’t take the time to declutter, it may be more hazardous than safe. Here are five steps to help you declutter your medicine cabinet:
1. Determine if the space you currently use to store your medicines is ideal for your needs. Ask yourself: Are your medicines in a convenient location? Are they secure or locked? Are they in a cool, dry place? Is there adequate space to separate medicines if needed? Your medicine cabinet does not have to be an actual cabinet, it can also be a drawer or medicine safe. Be sure the space is cool and dry, as heat or humidity can alter medicines. The traditional bathroom medicine cabinet is only recommended if the room is well ventilated. Otherwise, select a storage place that is locked and out of sight and reach of children, teenagers, and guests. 
2. Select a designated time, once or twice each year, to review all the medicines you have. (A good tip is to do this when you change the clocks or smoke detector batteries). Inspect all medications, paying close attention to the following:
  • Expiration date: Do not keep any medicines past their listed expiration date. Some medicines lose their potency as they age. Taking expired antibiotics may increase the risk of resistance, while other medicines, such as eye drops, can become susceptible to bacteria or fungus after their expiration date has passed. 
  • Physical signs of age: Look for discoloration, crumbling, stickiness, or other signs of wearing which may indicate a chemical change in the medicine. 
  • Leftover medicines from previous conditions or dose: It is not advisable to treat yourself with leftover medication for a condition (even if the symptoms are similar) without medical supervision. For instance, if you have a sore throat, don’t try to treat it yourself with a leftover antibiotic from last year, even if you have the same symptoms. Instead, consult with your health care provider. And never share medications with someone else. 

3. Decide how you will safely dispose of unwanted medicines. So, what should you do with the unwanted, unused, or expired medicine? Unless specified on the packaging, avoid flushing medicines down the sink or toilet as this can pollute the water supply. Medication “take-back” programs offer a safe way to dispose of medications. Inquire about community events, such as the biannual National Take Back Day, to bring unused drugs to a central disposal location. Contact your local government office or the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (800-882-9539, https://takebackday.dea.gov) to find the nearest collection site in your area. You can also check with your local pharmacist, as many pharmacies offer “take-back” programs. If there isn’t a program near where you live, with a few exceptions, you can throw most medications in the trash. 

4. Complete a few preparation steps before throwing medicine away in the trash.
  • Remove the medicines from their original containers along with any personal information to protect your identity. This step should be done before disposal at a “take-back” program as well. 
  • Mix the medications with something undesirable, such as coffee grounds or kitty litter, to reduce their appeal to pets, children, or people who go through your trash. 
  • Place the mixture into a container, can, or sealable bag to prevent leakage. Then place it in the trash (do not recycle). 
  • Avoid throwing inhalers or other aerosol products into a fire or incinerator, because doing so could be dangerous. Follow medication-specific storage and handling instructions. 
  • Ask your local pharmacist if any of your medicines pose a risk for abuse and avoid throwing those in the trash when possible.
5. Reorganize your medicine cabinet with medicines you need and currently use. Do this only after you have separated the medications for disposal. Here are a few strategies to help you organize: 
  • Keep medicines in the container they came in. Medicines may be sensitive to the light, so colored containers help protect them. Don’t combine pills in a single container even if they are the same medication, as the lot numbers and expiration dates may differ. 
  • Keep the labels on the bottles. The labels contain important information, such as the drug name, dose, and pharmacy phone number should you need a refill or have a question. 
  • Be sure that all lids are tightly closed to ensure the bottles remain childproof. 
  • Separate medicine for each person in your household with designated shelves or drawers. 
  • Update your family’s medication lists to prepare for future visits to the doctor or pharmacy. 
Medication storage and proper disposal are an important part of safe medication use. Avoid the dangers of misuse or overdose of prescription and over-the-counter medicines by scheduling dedicated time to declutter your medication cabinet. Be sure to ask your health care provider or pharmacist if you have questions about the best way to take care of your medicines so that they can best care for you. 
About the Author
Sonali Kshatriya, PharmD, is a pharmacist and Manager of Clinical Program Development for Walgreens. She's devoted to caring for patients by educating them on medications and health supplements, including guidance on how to properly store and discard them. Browse the wide array of supplements at Walgreens.com.

Although it is intended to be accurate, neither Walgreen Co., its subsidiaries or affiliates, nor any other party assumes for loss or damage due to reliance on this material. Walgreens does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned in the article. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. 

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