The return of warmer weather often inspires us to do some spring cleaning, but do you remember to include your medicine cabinet in that cleaning spree? You should, because it probably holds some products that should no longer be used!
Step 1: Are any of the products expired?
Medication (prescription or over-the-counter), natural health products and first-aid items (e.g. disinfectant) all have an expiration date. It is important not to use these products beyond that date, as they may no longer be effective. In some cases, the product may even be dangerous.
Look for the manufacturer’s expiration date on the packaging. If the date has passed, set the product aside. In the case of prescription medication prepared by your pharmacist, respect the date indicated on the pharmacy label.
In the case of eye or ear drops, the product can be used up to the expiration date indicated on the bottle, as long as the bottle hasn’t been opened. Due to the high risk of contamination, it is recommended that drops be used within 30 days of opening the bottle, and then be discarded (see procedure in step 3).
Step 2: Is your medication still useful?
Now that you’ve set aside all of your expired products, take a look at whether you still need the remaining items. Set aside any product that you no longer use or for which the treatment has now ended. Except for first-aid products (e.g. disinfectants, pain relievers, allergy medication), it is unnecessary and even dangerous to keep medication “just in case.” If you don’t remember what a certain medication was for, ask your pharmacist or dispose of it as described in the next section.
Step 3: How to dispose of expired or unnecessary medication
It is very important to never throw medication down the toilet, down the sink or in the garbage, as it could contaminate the ground or water sources. Instead, bring them to your pharmacist, who will be sure to dispose of them safely.
Tips on proper medication use and storage
- Despite its name, the bathroom medicine cabinet is not the best place to store your medication, as the wide fluctuations in temperature and humidity can accelerate the degradation of medication. For the same reasons, the kitchen is not a good place either.
- Keep all your medications together (e.g. in a big plastic tub with a lid) in a cool, dry area away from direct light. It should be easy for you to access, but out of the reach of children and pets – a closet, for example. You can use a locking container if you wish to keep it inaccessible to other members of the family.
- Always keep medication in its original packaging or the container provided by the pharmacy. Do not remove the pharmacy label.
- Never mix different medications in one container (except for pill dispensers prepared by a pharmacist).
- If you take several prescription drugs, ask your pharmacist to include the use for each medication on the pharmacy label.
- Never use medication that was prescribed for someone else. By the same token, don’t offer your prescription medication to anyone else. Even if you believe you have the same condition, the product may not be appropriate for the other person.
- Before taking any medication, check its appearance and odour. If it seems different from in the past, don’t take it – contact your pharmacist.
- Make sure to respect the storage temperature recommended by the manufacturer or pharmacist. Some products need to be refrigerated, while others must be kept at room temperature (usually between 15 and 30°C). Avoid keeping medication in an area that undergoes wide temperature fluctuations (e.g. cars in the summer or winter).
- It is essential that you respect the dosage indicated on the package or pharmacy label. In the case of products for children, use their weight rather than their age to determine the correct dose.
For medication to yield its full benefits while minimizing potential risks, it must be used correctly. Get into the habit of looking through your medication at least once a year in order to make sure the products in your home are still effective and have a reason for being there.
If you have any questions regarding medications, make sure to speak to your pharmacist!