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Practice Medication Safety

By Laurie Barten, PharmD and Kevin Cady, PharmD

Storing your medications correctly is very important.  Medications should be kept in their original labeled containers.  This helps to maintain the quality of the medications and decreases confusion in case there are several in the same area.  Most medications should be stored in a cool dry place, which means not in the bathroom!  The moisture levels can get too high for many medications in your bathroom’s medicine cabinet. 

If possible, use child safe caps and containers in case a small child decides to go exploring in your house.  Also, placing them out of reach deters them from being taken by someone they aren’t meant for.  Finally, once medications expire or your course of therapy is complete, throw them out.  Prescriptions are usually intended for immediate use and could be harmful taken outside of your doctor’s recommendations.  Medications are not as effective and can even become toxic once they expire!  Remember, over-the-counter drugs and herbals are still medications and should be treated as such.

In order to correctly dispose of medications, check the package label or enclosed information first to see if there are any specific instructions.  The Food and Drug Administration recommends the following: dispose of medications by placing them in wet coffee grounds or kitty litter to make them unusable, seal them in a plastic bag or closeable jar, and then they can be put out with the trash.  Some pharmacies and/or communities will have a medication disposal event or ‘drug take-back’ to get rid of unwanted medications.

Another way to use your medication safely includes utilizing a pill box.  A pill box with days of the week or month is a good reminder of medications you have or have not taken which keeps you from taking more than what you need of each pill each day.  Taking too much of some medications can be very dangerous. 

Remember if you do take medications, in an emergency you may not be able to tell health care providers about all of them.  If there is a reason for emergency medical personnel to come to your home, they have been trained to look at the fridge or other visible areas for a list of medications.  It is also good place to keep an updated list for yourself and your family.  Update the list each time you change doses or get a new medication, and remember to include your drug allergies and the names of your doctors.  Keeping a current medication list in your wallet is a good idea too.  Bring this with you to all of your medical appointments to show your physician.

Always remember that you are an important member of your own health care team, and understanding your medications, health conditions, and how to practice medication safety at home will help to keep you healthy, from day one!


Laurie Barten, pharmacy resident, and Kevin Cady, pharmacy manager, are doctors of pharmacy at Community Medical Center.