Got Medications? Learn to Store and Dispose of Them Safely

Prescription Pills

You frequently get headaches while you're driving, so you keep Tylenol in the glove compartment. You have a blood pressure medication that you take each morning, so you put it over the stove to take while you're boiling your water for hot coffee. That all makes sense, right? Wrong, warns Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, an expert for Dr. Mehmet Oz's blog site.

Where you store your medication and how you store it both play key roles in how effectively you manage your health, says Donna. It can even impact your medication's "ability to help you get better." Read on for her key tips.

Make these two words your mantra when it comes to where to store your medications: Cool and Dry. Putting pills over a hot stove or near a sink isn't wise. And because your glove compartment is exposed to hot sunlight during the day, that's out for a place to stash that Advil as well.

How about the time-honored bathroom medicine cabinet? It's out as well, Donna declares. "Heat and moisture can impact its effectiveness and safety. Though convenient, the bathroom medicine cabinet isn’t the best place for storage because that room tends to be damp and warm. Medication should also be kept away from kitchen cabinets/counters that heat up from a stove or under-cabinet lighting. Likewise, never leave it in a hot car for more than a few minutes."


You finally pried off that child-proof lid, so you decide to put your prescriptions in a different container. Good idea or bad idea? Bad, says Donna, who advises that you "keep medicine in its original container with labels intact." Why? Because many medications look similar. That label tells you for whom the pills are prescribed, the prescribing doctor, the reason to take it, how much, how often and the expiration date.

In addition, says Donna, "Transporting it in the original container is also important when travelling for identification in the event of a medical emergency or when going through security lines."

Package Inserts and Materials
If there is a package insert, see if it has storage instructions, such as keeping it in a dark place or refrigerating it. If it's meant to be kept in the fridge, keep the lid on tightly and put in a place where children can't reach it.

Does the bottle contain a cotton plug? Toss it, because it can absorb germs after you open the container.

Bonus Tips
Donna offers these key tips:

  • Keep the phone numbers of your local pharmacy, poison control center and healthcare provider handy in case of accidental overdose or misuse.
  • When traveling, always keep prescription medication on your person and not in checked luggage or hotel rooms if possible. Bring extra doses along in the event of unexpected delays to your return home.
  • Dispose of medication that is past the expiration date, has changed in color or appearance, or that you or a loved one no longer take. But don’t flush it down the toilet unless specifically advised to do so by a healthcare provider or package instructions. And don’t toss it in the trash in its original container with label. With pills, it is usually best to mix them with something unpalatable such as coffee grinds or kitty litter and seal in a plastic bag before placing in the trash. You can also check with your local pharmacist or your town recycling and trash removal service about the best way to dispose of medications.