Cleaning out your medicine cabinet isn't just a matter of organization or getting your bathroom
up to KonMari standards. Keeping track of your medications and expiration dates, as well as how and where you store them, actually has a lot to do with safety — and not just yours, but that of the people around you, too. But where to start? POPSUGAR talked to Sean Mackey, MD, professor and chief of the pain medicine division at Stanford, and clinical pharmacist Ann Schwemm, Pharm D, MPH, to clear up misconceptions and get the facts on how to read medication expiration dates, throw out old pills, and keep your medicine cabinet organized and safe.
Whether it's over-the-counter cold medicine or a prescription drug, expiration dates on medications generally indicate when the med will start losing its potency or effectiveness. In general, Dr. Mackey said, the expiration dates printed on your medication are pretty conservative measurements. "Many maintain good potency after their expiration dates," he said, so some drugs and medications might still work well for a few years after that printed date.
Still, in most cases, it's better safe than sorry. This is especially true, Schwemm said, when it comes to prescription drugs. The older the drug is — the closer to, or farther past, its expiration date — the more it starts degrading, and the less actual drug product there is. "If it's medication where you really need the effect, where you really need it to work — whether it's birth control or blood pressure medication — I would want that to work 100 percent," she explained.
Plus, studies don't look at what happens to the drug when it breaks down, post-expiration date. "The likelihood that it's turning into something negative is very low," Schwemm said, "but researchers also aren't testing for it, so we don't really know what the drug has potentially degraded into."
They both advised doing extra research into your specific medication. It's free to consult a pharmacist, Schwemm reminded us, and you can also check in with a doctor. "My recommendation would be, where possible, always just get your doctor to write you a current prescription and get it filled," Dr. Mackey told POPSUGAR.
3How Do You Throw Away Medications and Prescription Drugs?
When you are ready to get rid of medication, it's not as simple as just tossing the bottle into the trash. There are some tricky rules for throwing out medications, so here are the best ways to do it, starting with our experts' number one recommendation.
Take-back facilities and take-back boxes will accept medications in gel and cream form as well. If you're doing the "mix it and pitch it" option, Schwemm said to follow the same basic steps: remove your name and information from the label and either drop the tube in a plastic bag, or squeeze the medication out into the bag.
Needles are a little trickier. If you take a medication that comes with a needle for self-injection, you'll need to put them in a sharps container, which Schwemm says you can get at a pharmacy or local lab. If you don't have a sharps container, you can also set a needle in an orange juice jug or liquid laundry detergent bottle before bringing them to a take-back facility.
Before you toss the empty tube or pill bottle in the trash, both Schwemm and Dr. Mackey recommended blocking out any identifying information, like your name, address, or contact information, for the sake or personal safety. You can also tear the label off and send it through a shredder, or, Schwemm said, carefully take a match or a lighter to the label, which will blacken out the information.
This article originally published on PopSugar.com by Maggie Ryan