When picking up your prescription medication, before you leave the pharmacy, take a close look at the label on each container. Make sure it has the following:
- Your name as well as the prescribing doctor’s name.
- The name and phone number of the pharmacy.
- The date it was prescribed.
- The name and the amount of the medication.
- Simple understandable directions.
- The expiration date.
- The number of refills, if any.
When you arrive home with your medication, be sure to keep it in its original container in order to prevent any future confusion. An exception to this rule would be to put the medication in a weekly pill container which is the best method of helping to remember to take medication on schedule. These containers can be purchased at your local pharmacy. You may dispose of the cotton plug which is often found in the container. Always keep containers tightly closed. When bringing a new medication into your home, take time to dispose of any medication which has expired or has been discontinued by your physician.
Take time to read the drug information given to you by the pharmacist. This is usually a fairly detailed computer print out of information you need to know before taking your first dose. Spending time to read this information will help you to understand how often and when to take the medication, what side effects may occur, whether to take the drug on a full or empty stomach, and whether it needs to be refrigerated.
It’s probably safe to say that most people who have prescription medication are not aware of proper storage techniques. Heat and humidity are the greatest factors in the deterioration of stored medications, especially tablets and capsules. The medicine cabinet in the bathrooms is actually the worst place to store medication because of the high heat and humidity. A cool, dark, and dry location such as a top dresser drawer or a high shelf in a closet is preferred. Keeping them out of the reach of children is of utmost importance. Also of equal importance is to keep controlled drugs, especially narcotics, in a locked secure location. Do not store medication in the glove box of your car as the intense summer heat will cause rapid deterioration.
What actually happens to medication which is beyond the expiration date? In almost all cases, the drug merely loses its potency, but does not become dangerous or toxic. One notable exception to this rule is common aspirin, which when it breaks down, forms acetic acid (vinegar) and salicylic acid which are stomach irritants. Regardless of the expiration date, if at any time you open a medication container and it either looks or smells different from how you remember it, either dispose of it properly or have your pharmacist check it out for you.
Discard any medication which has:
- Been discontinued by your doctor.
- No label on the container.
- Changed color, smell, or seems different from how you remember it.
Medications which should be safely discarded include prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, pet medicines, vitamins, medicated creams and ointments, and liquid medication in containers.
In many states it is now illegal to discard medicines and sharps by flushing them down the toilet or throwing them into the trash. Most local pharmacies will accept unwanted medications and sharps which should be transported in an approved safe container which can be inexpensively obtained from the participating pharmacy.