On Your Health

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Are You Storing Your Medicine Properly?

26 August 2016

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Are you storing and disposing of your medicine safely? Improper handling of prescriptions is not only risky, it’s irresponsible, but there are simple steps and precautions you can take to keep your medicine safe.

The dangers of leaving medicine accessible

Very few patients (studies say one in ten) who are prescribed pain medicine lock up that medicine, but unlocked and unsupervised medicine supplies leave a window of opportunity for theft, abuse, or tragic accidents. According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, of the nearly 3,900 unintentional poisoning deaths in Oklahoma from 2007 to 2012, prescription drugs were involved in four out of five of those deaths.

In 2012, Oklahoma was ranked first in the nation for rates of prescription painkiller abuse. In fact, more Oklahoma overdose deaths that year involved hydrocodone or oxycodone than all illegal drugs and alcohol combined.

Whether or not you have children in your household, take every precaution to store medicine safely. It may be helpful to write down a list of the medicines you keep, keep a record of when certain medications are taken, or even take inventory of certain pills to help yourself keep track of quantities consumed.

Don’t keep medicine in the bathroom

Many of us keep prescriptions in medicine cabinets or on open shelves in the bathroom, but the FDA warns this is not a good idea. Areas that can become warm and humid, like bathrooms, are not appropriate for storing medicine because heat and moisture can cause compounds to break down faster and possibly become toxic.

Medicines are best stored in a lockable container, out of reach of children, and in a cool, dry environment. Consider using a child-proof plastic storage container and storing it on a high shelf in a closet or hallway storage area.

Check expiration dates on your prescriptions

About 60 percent of patients keep leftover medicine in case they need it in the future. The FDA advises that expired medicines can lose effectiveness and become physically risky, as chemical compositions may change over time and could be at risk of bacterial growth. Beyond that, taking prescriptions beyond a physician’s recommended time period is inherently dangerous.

Always check the expiration date printed on a medicine’s container, and dispose of prescriptions immediately upon finishing the recommended dosages.

How to store and dispose of medicine safely

If throwing away medicine in a trash can is your only option, the Office of National Drug Control Policy recommends removing the medicine from its container, mixing it with an undesirable substance like cat litter or old coffee grounds, placing the mixture in a disposable container with a lid or into a sealed bag, and putting that into the trash.

All 77 Oklahoma counties have prescription drug drop-off locations for safe disposal of unused medicines.

Find your closet drop-off location on the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics website.

Remember these guidelines for safe medicine storage and disposal:


  • Store medicine out of reach of children.
  • Keep medicine in its original container at all times.
  • Remove personal information from containers upon disposal, or cover it with permanent marker.
  • Take old prescriptions to a local drop-off location.
  • Mix medicine with another substance and place in a disposable container before putting it in the garbage.


  • Store medicine in your bathroom or keep it in your car.
  • Flush medicine down the toilet or pour down the drain without verifying it is safe to do so. (Click here for a list of medicines the FDA recommends flushing.)

Leave medicine accessible to children, teenagers, or anyone whose name is not on the label.