Medicine Cabinet 101

Medicine Cabinet 101How to Store Pharmaceuticals

Cholesterol-lowering pills and allergy eye drops may reside on the bed stand. The medicine cabinet probably holds a cluster of medications (antacids, asthma inhalers, antibiotics) and a few stray ibuprofen may even float around the bottom of your handbag. More than one third of American adults regularly use over-the-counter medications and 65 percent of all adults in the U.S. (roughly 131 million people) use prescription drugs. But not all of us know how to store and dispose of medication safely.

We’ve got your medicine cabinet covered with a comprehensive guide on storing and disposing prescription and OTC drugs. Read on to learn how to stay out of harm’s way.

The Best Way to Store Your Meds

Store it right: How and where to keep your medications

Up to 50 percent of chronic disease patients (for instance people with arthritis, asthma, cancer, COPD, diabetes) fail to follow directions and take their medicine as prescribed. A simple misstep can lead to higher health risks and medical bills.

One way to avoid this problem is to stay organized. While some households store meds in a number of locations, it’s easier to keep track when they’re all in one place. Try to make medicine taking a part of your daily routine (whether it’s right after breakfast, before dinner, or before bed—whatever your doctor suggests based on the requirements of each medication) and stick to a schedule. Pill organizers are another great way to prevent confusion if you or a family member takes multiple pills a day. It’s also a great idea to take an inventory of your prescriptions at least once every six months.

When choosing a place to keep prescriptions, seek a spot that stays cool and dry, such as a kitchen drawer away from appliances (heat and moisture can damage pills). For this reason, a medicine cabinet in the bathroom may not live up to its name, unless the bathroom is well ventilated with fans or windows.

Travel poses its own obstacles. If you’re traveling in the car, don’t keep medicine in the glove compartment, which can get very hot. If you’re jet setting, pack prescriptions in a carry-on bag in case your luggage is lost or temporarily delayed. Pack medicine in the original bottle and take a copy of your prescription to avoid any trouble with security.

The Best Way to Dispose of Meds

How to properly dispose of medications

This isn’t a simple toss in the trash situation. Discarding pills is a matter of safety: Many medicines are unsafe if taken by the wrong person. Medications that have passed the expiration date can also be dangerous.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) provides specific guidelines to dispose prescriptions safely.

Take old, unused, or expired prescriptions out of the bottle and throw them away. It’s best to mix them with icky garbage such as coffee grounds, cat litter, or compost. This helps prevent others from getting into those pills. (Every year, more than 60,000 kids go to the emergency room because they took medicine that wasn’t theirs.)

Experts have mixed feelings about flushing prescriptions down the toilet. Some question it due to trace amounts of drug residues found in surface water. Groups including the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have closely monitored this issue and so far have not reported any apparent safety or environmental issues.

The simple rule of thumb? Only flush medications if the label or your doctor says it’s safe. (Here’s a list of meds that can take a trip down the toilet.)

To ensure safety on all fronts, head to a designated drop off site. There are also many community take-back programs for old medicines. Head to the DEA website to see what’s available near you.

Safety First!

Rx safety tips for effective prescription use

Popping pills isn’t a one-and-done endeavor. There are some easy guidelines to make sure you take prescriptions the intended way. Additionally, you can pledge to store medications safely and learn more about pharmaceutical safety at Up and Away.

So without further adieu, here are 14 tips to make sure you store and take medications safely.

Always ask. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist. They’re the experts when it comes to the proper way to take, store, and get rid of them.

Check the expiration date. Always check the expiration date on the bottle. Expired medicines may not only be ineffective, they could be harmful too.

Look for warning signs. Check for pills that look discolored or dried out. If anything looks funky, take a picture and call your doctor to make sure it’s still safe to consume.

Never reuse and recycle. Still have that prescription cough medicine that expired in 2012? Always discard leftover medicine even if you think you may use it again. It’s always best to have a doctor prescribe new medicine despite any similar symptoms.

Keep it in the same container. The bottle’s tint helps protect pills from light and lists important information including the name of the prescription, when to take it, and your pharmacy’s number for when it’s time for a refill.

Don’t mix meds. Many pills look similar, and it’s easier than one might think to accidentally pop the wrong one.

Remove the cotton. Some pill bottles come with cotton inside to help protect pills that are shipped from online pharmacies. Remove the cotton as soon as you open the bottle. The cotton attracts moisture, which could decrease the medication’s strength.

Separate from your spouse. Keep your medicines separate from your spouse or other family members to lower the chances of mixing.

Open in a safety zone. Open meds on a countertop so you can rest the bottle on a flat surface. There’s always a chance of a pill slipping out of the bottle, and you don’t want to lose it on the floor or down a drain.

Keep the lights on. Don’t take pills in the dark or in bad lighting. Good light helps ensure you take the right pill and correct dose.

Lock ‘em out. It’s crucial to lock your prescriptions in a drawer if you have small kids.

Close it tight. Use that arm strength to close the lid tight. This also helps childproof the bottles.

Be prepared in case of an emergency. Call your poison control center immediately if you think a child may have taken one of your prescriptions. Save the number in your phone so you can dial right away.


By now, you should be an expert on pill safety—from storage and use to proper disposal. Stick to these guidelines (and some common sense) and you’ll be on the fast track to health.

Medicine Cabinet 101


By Laura Schwecherl

Laura Schwecherl is the Marketing Director at Possible, a nonprofit healthcare company based in New York and rural Nepal. She was the previous Marketing and Partnerships Director at Greatist, which exposed her love of writing about health and wellness. In her spare time, she is either training for a marathon, writing poems, or eating tacos.