How to store, safeguard and dispose of prescription medicine

Safeguarding prescription medicine properly is easy once you know what to do, and it’s important for the health and safety of your family and others who come into your home.

If medicine is not stored properly, there can be serious consequences:

  • The medicine may get into the wrong hands if a family member or visitor takes it without your knowledge. They may use it incorrectly to try to treat a medical condition — or worse, they may abuse it.
  • Heat, humidity, or changes in temperature may damage the medicine.1
  • Children or pets may be accidentally poisoned by ingesting easily accessible medicine.

If you have prescription medicine in your home, it is your responsibility to properly safeguard and dispose of it.  Here are some general rules to follow:

The Do’s and Don’ts of Safe Medicine Storage

DO ask your community pharmacist if any of the medicine you have been prescribed may have the potential for abuse.

DO lock up medicine that is at risk for being abused in a cabinet, drawer, or medicine safe.

DO keep medicine in a cool, dry place that is out of the reach of children.

DO store medicine in its original container — the label on the bottle provides important information about the medicine.

DO keep an updated list of all prescription medicine in your home. Take an inventory at least twice a year — when clocks ‘spring’ forward in the spring and ‘fall’ back in autumn, for example. Click here for a downloadable medication inventory sheet.

DO talk to your community pharmacist about how to properly dispose of unused or unwanted medicine. Additionally, you can access disposal information online at www.fda.gov by searching for “Rx drug disposal.”

DON’T leave medicine in places that are easily accessible to children or pets.

DON’T store medicine in a bathroom medicine cabinet where humidity and temperature changes can cause damage.1

DON’T share prescription medicine. Healthcare professionals prescribe specific medicine for individuals based on personal medical histories and other health factors. A medicine that works for one person may cause harm — even death — to someone else, even if symptoms are similar.

DON’T take medicine in front of children who often mimic adults.

Getting Rid of Unused or Unwanted Prescription Medicine

It is important to get rid of medicine that has expired or is no longer needed. There is no set rule for disposing of all medicine, so talk to your community pharmacist about the best way to get rid of unused or unwanted medicine in your home. You can also visit the Food and Drug Administration’s website at www.fda.gov and search for “Rx drug disposal.”

Safeguard My Meds offers several tools to help you take responsibility for your prescription medicine.

  1. Vorcik L. Storing Medicines Safely. National Institutes of Health, Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. Updated March 14, 2009. Available at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007189.htm. Accessed August 17, 2010.