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Medication storage and disposal – what should i do
Issue 2 – August 2009
Medication Storage and Disposal – What Should I Do?
Everyone has places at home where they like to keep medications. Some store their medications
in the bathroom or on a window ledge. Maybe medications are stored on the counter where anyone could
reach them. How long should you keep your medicines -- six months, a year, five years? Proper
medication storage and disposal is important to make sure you receive the most benefit from medications
Most medications should be stored in an area that is dry, dark and at room temperature (about
68-77°F). Bathrooms and window ledges expose medications to heat, light, and moisture, which can
cause them to break down and not work as well. Places like kitchen cabinets, night stands, or desk
drawers are better places to store medications. However, read the label or insert that comes with your
medication to see if it has special storage needs. For example, some oral antibiotics need to be
refrigerated. Also, if there are children or pets around, medications should be kept in a child-proof
container and in a higher area where they cannot be easily reached. Locking medications in a drawer or
cabinet is another way to keep medications out of reach.
Along with proper storage, knowing when to throw away your medicines is important. All
medications should be properly disposed of after the expiration date on the bottle, vial, or device has
passed. This is very important for certain medications such as EpiPens, antibiotics, and heart and
seizure medications. These medicines might not work or cause harm if used past the expiration date.
Other medications like inhalers, insulin, and nitroglycerin might need to be disposed of before the
expiration date, depending on use and how they were kept. Read medication leaflets or guides or ask
your pharmacist if you have questions about when medications should be discarded. Also, properly
dispose of any medication that is discolored, has an unusual odor, or is broken, even if it has not expired.
If you have medications that have expired or need to be discarded, proper disposal of these
medicines is necessary. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, only a few medications
should be flushed down the toilet. These medications are: Actiq (fentanyl), Duragesic Transdermal
System (fentanyl), Fentora (fentanyl buccal tablet), Daytrana Transdermal Patch (methylphenidate), ,
OxyContin Tablets(oxycodone), Avinza Capsules (morphine), Baraclude Tablets (entecavir), Reyataz
Capsules (atazanavir), Tequin Tablets (gatifloxacin), Zerit for Oral Solution (stavudine), Meperidine
Tablets, Percocet (Oxycodone plus Acetaminophen), Xyrem (Sodium Oxybate)(1). Looking at the
medication label for discarding instructions is the first step in proper disposal. If there are instructions,
follow the directions given. If no instructions are provided, remove the medication from the original bottle
and place it in a sealable bag, can, or another container that will not break or leak (2,3). If the medication
is a tablet or capsule, crush the medication in the container then add water and mix (3). Next, add used
coffee grounds, kitty litter, or saw dust and place it in the trash (2,3). To protect your identity, remove or
scratch out all personal information on prescription bottles before throwing them in the trash (2,3).
Appropriate disposal of needles is just as important as proper medication disposal. Needles and
lancets should not be thrown into the trash since other people could easily be hurt, even if the needle is
recapped. Needles should be disposed of in a proper sharps container, like a BD Home Sharps
Container, that can be purchased at most pharmacies. These red containers can then be dropped off at
collection sites in the community, such as doctors’ offices, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, or the local
health department. Contact these places to see if they accept the containers. Another option is
purchasing sharps containers that can be mailed back to the company for disposal (4). Kendall
SharpSafety Mail Away Sharps Disposal is an example of one of these companies. They can be phoned
at 1-800-962-9888 for more information on their product (5). A third option is using home needle
destruction devices that will either clip, melt, or burn the needle. After the needle is destroyed, the syringe
can be thrown in the trash (4). Needle destruction devices can also be purchased at most pharmacies. It
does not matter what needle disposal method you use, as long as you discard the needles properly.
Proper storage helps you get the most out of your medicines. The proper disposal of expired
medications and needles protects children, pets, and others from accidently taking medicines that could
harm them or from being stuck with used needles. If you have any further questions about medication
storage or disposal, ask your pharmacist.
References 1) Breathing Partner’s Notebook: SMARxT Disposal. 35:1. Available at:
2) Food and Drug Administration. How to Dispose of Unused Medications [updated June 23, 2008].
3) SMARxT Disposal. Responsible medication disposal safeguards lives and protects the environment.
4) Environmental Protection Agency. Community options for safe needle disposal [updated October
2004]. Available at: Accessed on August 21, 2009.
5) Safe Needle Disposal. Kendall SharpSafety Mail Away Sharps Disposal. Available at:
http://www.safeneedledisposal.org/product/17.html. Accessed on August 21, 2009.
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