Many people do not think about medications having an expiration date, but the fact is, medications expire much in the same way that food expires. There are people who wouldn’t consider drinking milk just one day after the expiration date, but the same people are often unaware that their medicine cabinets contain expired products. All medications, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, have expiration dates and should be discarded when expired.
Expired medications are not always dangerous, but they can become weak and possibly ineffective after the “use by” date. Expired medicine in pill and liquid form often changes in color and consistency. Liquids can separate and pills deteriorate over time. These changes are obvious, but sometimes medication appears to be fresh when in fact it has been compromised by time and improper storage.
The bathroom would seem like the appropriate place to store medication, hence the name “medicine cabinet,” but the bathroom is actually the worst place to store medicine. Bathrooms are generally humid locations where the temperature rises and falls on a regular basis. These conditions can wreak havoc on medications stored therein. The best place to store medicine of any kind is an area where the temperature remains constant, away from heat, sunlight, and humidity.
The second most common place people chose to store medication is the kitchen. A kitchen cabinet seems like the appropriate choice, but this is also one of the worst places to store medication. Kitchens become overheated because of cooking and baking, and dishwashers and hot running water can cause humidity to rise. A cabinet located in a comfortable bedroom would be an appropriate location for storing medication. If you have children or pets, be sure to keep the storage area for your medications locked at all times.
Before you Purchase Medication
While you are in the store, look for the expiration date on product packaging before you make your purchase. If you discover expired medication, bring it to the attention of store personnel. Although store employees are trained to rotate stock and remove any expired products from their inventory, expired medications are sometimes overlooked. Sometimes expiration dates are not evident. Manufacturers use special codes that are impossible for the consumer to read. Ask store personnel if they understand the coding. If you cannot locate or decipher the expiration date on a product, do not buy it. Most medications are clearly labeled with an expiration date, so instead of taking a chance on a product without a clear expiration date, choose a product you can rely on.
Before you Store Medication
When you purchase new medication, before storing it in the appropriate location, mark the expiration date with a highlighting marker. A brightly colored highlighting marker will enable you to clearly and quickly locate the expiration date. You will be surprised at how quickly medications expire.
Disposing of Expired Medication
As a rule, medicine cabinets should be cleaned out and checked for expired products at least twice a year. Cleaning out medicine cabinets just once a year may not be enough. Some medications have a short shelf life, and inadvertently, some medications may be close to expiring when purchases are made.
If you discover expired medications in your household inventory, call your local pharmacy to see if they offer a means of disposal. Some pharmacies take expired medications and safely dispose of them as a service to their customers. Never dispose of medications by throwing them in the trash or flushing them down the toilet. Medications can pollute landfills, endanger animals, and contaminate ground water.
When in Doubt, Throw it Out!
If you are in need of a particular medication and you only have expired products on hand, discard them and purchase new ones. Taking expired medications, even for something as simple as indigestion, may not remedy the problem. Keep your medicine cabinets stocked with products you use on a regular basis, and again, check product labeling for expiration dates. Something as common as an aspirin can become impotent if it is expired. Although aspirin is most commonly used to remedy aches and pains, it is also used to prevent heart attacks. Checking labels may save you a headache, but what is more important, taking the time to look for an expiration date may someday save your life.