There is a reason medicine has an expiration date. Drugs do not typically become dangerous over time, but they do lose their effectiveness. Even the way you store your medicine can have an impact on its quality over time. And, when it is time to throw it out, it is important to dispose of medicine properly to ensure it does not have a long-lasting impact on the environment.
David Copelan, Pharm. D., a pharmacist at Piedmont, recommends the following guidelines getting the most out of your medications and how and when to discard.
The ideal environment to store medicine is in a cool, dry place with minimal exposure to light.
“Most people store their medicine in their bathroom,” says Copelan. “This is actually not the best choice since showers create a hot, steamy environment that can contaminate medication, especially powders and tablets.”
In this on-the-go world we live in, many people also store their medicine in their vehicle so it is readily available during their commute. Copelan says heat and light can have a significant effect on medication, causing it to break down faster.
He recommends finding a cabinet in the house (preferably not in a bathroom or near appliances that get hot) that is used on a minimal basis and is out of the reach of children. Make sure all lids are tightly secured to help minimize exposure to the elements.
1. Follow expiration dates. First and foremost, Copelan says it is important to pay attention to expiration dates. Most medication does not become dangerous once it expires, although there are a few examples, like Tetracycline which actually goes through a molecular structure change over time that causes it to form a different substance that can damage your kidneys. If something is expired, toss it.
2. Remove labels. Remove pharmacy labels to ensure your personal information is not available to strangers. Prescription bottles typically contain your name, address, phone number, as well as your doctor's name and phone number. Make sure your personal information is secure.
3. Do not flush unused medications. Consumers were once advised to flush their expired or unused medications down the toilet, but now we know this can affect our water system, which is recycled for many purposes. However, there are some instances where the benefits of flushing may outweigh the risks.
“Narcotic pain medications and other Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)-controlled drugs should be flushed to keep them from being retrieved and abused,” says Copelan.
For all other medications, he advises patients to place them in a sealed bag before throwing them in the garbage. Copelan recommends mixing them with kitty litter, saw dust, or anything that will help absorb the medicine to prevent it from leaking into our environment. This is especially true of liquids and creams.
4. Find a collection site. The DEA has established a nationwide initiative setting up medication collection sites to ensure medication is disposed of properly. These collection sites are state-approved and use an incinerating process to dispose of medicine at high temperatures. Ask your pharmacist if he or she knows of a collection site near you.
“I also like to remind patients that pharmacies cannot take back medication once it has been dispensed,” says Copelan. “This is against federal law and it is to ensure the safety of every patient.”
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