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Seasonal Cleaning for Your Medicine Cabinet

Albert Barber | posted September 04, 2013 | Bookmark and Share

Actually keeping medications in the medicine cabinet or any storage in a bathroom is a bad idea due to the excessive heat and humidity that can degrade medications. A kitchen cabinet away from the stove and refrigerator is a much better place to store medications – both prescription and non-prescription.

During each change of seasons, we seem to have an instinctual drive to clean and organize our “nest” and get rid of items no long being used or needed. This drive should include prescription and non-prescription medications, herbal products, and dietary supplements.

One factor to consider is the expiration date or beyond use date for each product. The expiration date is the date beyond which medications, whether in the unopened manufacturer’s container or in an opened and intact manufacturer’s container, should be used. If the expiration date contains only the month and year, the product expires on the last day of that month (i.e. Exp. Date 5/14 means the product should not be used beyond May 31, 2014).

Beyond use date is the date beyond which medications that have been manipulated and/or repackaged and stored or dispensed in a container other than the original manufacturer’s storage container should not be used. A good example would be a pediatric antibiotic suspension will be labeled with a beyond use date based on the date of reconstitution of the powder by the pharmacy into a liquid, often seven to 10 days.

Pharmacists are often asked if a certain product is still usable or when and how should these products be discarded.

  • For medications dispensed in traditional vials or bottles without an expiration or beyond use date on the label, the generally accepted beyond use date is one year from the date of dispensing on the label.
  • For non-prescription medications including vitamin supplements and herbal products, discard after the expiration date on the package from the manufacturer. Sometimes the lot number and expiration date are printed on the bottle’s side or on the bottom, top, or side of the lid instead of on the label.
  • For nitroglycerin sublingual tablets, discard after 12 months, but six months if the container has been opened.
  • Inhalers are generally good until the manufacturer’s expiration date on the product label. Some exceptions include:
    Advair® Powder for Inhalation - 30 days after the foil-pack is opened.
    Asmanex Twisthaler Powder for Inhalation® - 45 days after foil pack is opened
    Serevent Discus for Inhalation® - six weeks after removal from outer wrapper
    Xopenex Inhalation Solution® - seven days after removal from foil pouch
    Ventolin HFA Inhalation Aerosol® - 12 months after removal from foil overwrap
    Note: always write the beyond use date on the package when opening
  • For medications no longer prescribed or needed, always discard these to avoid confusion and possible overdose or duplicate therapy. Never “save” medications for future use unless specifically instructed to do so by your physician or pharmacist. If instructed to save a medication, make sure to document how and when it should be used.

Medication disposal should be in the most environmentally friendly method possible. Some communities/pharmacies have medication drop boxes for consumers to use or have designated times and locations where old medications may be discarded. Alternatively, medications may be rendered unusable by placing them in a sealed container with used kitty litter or coffee grounds and placed in the trash. Some medications, including many narcotics, can be are flushed to prevent accidental poising or intentional abuse. Finally, there are commercial products available such as Drug Buster® that will render medications including narcotics unusable and safe to dispose in the trash.

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