Spring cleaning your medicine cabinet

Spring cleaning your medicine cabinet

When people think of spring cleaning, most overlook one important place: their medicine cabinet. A 2017 nationally representative survey of 1,006 American adults by Consumer ­Reports found that in the past year roughly one-third of Americans hadn’t cleaned theirs out. However, using expired drugs can affect potency and increase the risk of someone in your household accidentally overdosing.

Check All Your Medications

We recommend pulling all the medications out of your medicine cabinet and looking at the expiration date on every bottle. Separate all expired items. For sealed bottles that are stored at the appropriate temperature and humidity, expiration dates are dates the manufacturer guarantees original labelled potency. Expired medications may not be effective and can sometimes cause harm. The normal range for expiration dates is from 3-5 years. If no date appears on the prescription bottle, it’s probably safe to use two years from the filling date (this can serve as an expiration date). All medications you are no longer taking or do not use should also be disposed of in order to protect from accidental use.

Over-the-counter, or OTC, drugs should also be checked along with prescription medications. Any OTC medications that are expired should be disposed of.

Proper Disposal

Since some medications can be abused or are difficult to remove from wastewater, expired or unwanted medications should be taken to drug take-back locations, if possible, for disposal. Huntington Police Department has a drug drop off box, and several pharmacies also accept medications for disposal.

If a drug take-back location is not available, a few medications may need to be flushed down a toilet. These may include buprenorphine (e.g. Suboxone), fentanyl (e.g. Duragesic) or oxycodone (e.g. OxyContin or Roxicodone). The FDA has a full “flush list” of these medications.

If a take-back location is not available and the medication is not on the flush list, the medication can be mixed with unpleasant and inedible things like dirt, cat litter or used coffee grounds. Tablets and capsules should not be crushed before mixing. The mixture can be placed in a container, like a sealed plastic bag, and thrown out with household trash.

If you need to throw away empty prescription bottles, scratch out all personal information so no one can read your private information.

More information can be found on the FDA’s website.


Jeffrey Fenerty, R.Ph.

Jeff is the director of pharmacy services for Marshall Health. He has 25 years of experience as a pharmacist and pharmacy manager.