Spring cleaning should include your medicine cabinet

May 23, 2016 Kimberlee I. Hauff, MD

Clean your medicine cabinet

A lot of people look to spring as the time to finally tackle dust bunnies and an overflowing closet or toy box. This extra cleaning energy should also extend to your medicine cabinet. 

All medicines, including over-the-counter medications, have an expiration date. Many lose their effectiveness after this date. Look at all of the medicine in your cabinet – which should absolutely be locked at all times to keep children and pets safe. Dispose of drugs you don’t routinely use, plus any medications that have expired. 

Do not keep extra opiate medications “just in case.” Any leftover opiates should be disposed of immediately to avoid your children or their friends discovering the medication.  A previous post by Elizabeth Meade, M.D., describes the risks of opiate addiction in teens. 

After you’ve collected all of the medications you need to get rid of, drop them off at a medicine take-back location. You can find information on local programs at Take Back Your Meds, a group of more than 270 agencies and organizations in Washington state that works to reduce:

• Access to addictive drugs
• The risk of poisonings
• Environmental damage from medicine

Last resort disposal methods

If there is no take-back program nearby, check to see if your health care provider will take back any leftover chemotherapy medicines. Sometimes cancer programs will accept the return of these drugs.

For all other medications, follow these steps, as prescribed by Take Back Your Meds:

• Do not pour medicines down the drain or flush them down the toilet.
• Keep the medicine in its original container and do not crush pills.
• To discourage anyone from taking these drugs, mix in something unappealing such as kitty litter or coffee grounds. 
• Tape medicine containers shut, put them in a sealable bag and then put the bag in non-transparent container so the drugs can’t be seen.
• Put the container in the garbage and make sure children, pets or anyone looking for drugs doesn’t have access to your trash.

Not sure if you should get rid of a medicine yet, or need a refill? Contact your physician. You can find a Swedish physician here.


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