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Safe Storage and Disposal of Medicines

Proper storage and disposal of medicines is important to help keep patients, family members, and caregivers safe. All medicines can be dangerous if not stored properly, if not taken as directed, if taken by the wrong person, or if not thrown away safely.

Remember to:

  • Keep medicines in a safe spot, away from children and pets
  • Put medicines away after every use
  • Follow storage directions from the pharmacy
  • Dispose of medicines properly when they are no longer needed
Safe storage of medicine protects patients and family members from harm.

Safe storage of medicine protects patients and family members from harm.

Tips for safe storage of medicines

Safe storage of medicine protects patients and family members from harm. Medicines that are not stored properly can result in accidental poisoning. Every year, about 60,000 children go to the emergency room because they took medicine when an adult was not looking. When not stored properly, medicines may not work as well or can become harmful. Safe medicine storage tips include:

  • Follow storage instructions on medicine bottles. Some medicines need to be refrigerated or kept out of light. Check the label for storage instructions. If you are unsure, ask the pharmacist how the medicine should be stored.
  • Store unrefrigerated medicines in a dry, cool place. Do not store medicine in the bathroom. Moisture and heat from showers, baths, and sinks may damage medicines. Medicines may not work or may become dangerous. Safe places to store medicines include a kitchen cabinet away from the sink or stove or on a shelf in a closet.
  • Store medicines away from food in the refrigerator. Keep medicine in a refrigerator drawer, or place the medicine in a container to protect nearby food. Keep refrigerated medicines at a constant temperature. Do not place medicine in or near the freezer. Do not store medicines in the refrigerator door because the temperature may change when the door is opened.
  • Do not keep medicines in the car. The car can get too hot. Heat may cause medicines to not work or become dangerous.
  • Store medicines in the original, labeled containers. Never mix different medicines in the same bottle. If using a pill box or other medicine organizer, keep the original, labeled medicine containers. The original label can help if there are questions about the name of the medicine, dose, refills, or instructions for how to take or store the medicine.
  • Keep medicines up and away from children’s sight and reach. Always put medicines away after each use. Do not leave medicine on the counter or in a purse or diaper bag, even if it will need to be given again in a few hours. This is especially important if a medicine is a hazardous drug or controlled substance.

Tips for safe disposal of medicines

It is important to get rid of medicines when they are no longer needed or when they may be harmful or not work as well. Dispose of medicines when:

  • There are broken pieces of medicine capsules or tablets. Throw these away immediately, as you will not be able to give the correct dose. Some medicines can even be harmful if they are cut or broken.
  • They are expired. Look at expiration dates on medicine bottles. Expired medicines may no longer work, and the medicine may even be dangerous.
  • They have changed the way they look. Do not use medicines that have changed color, are crumbling, or have a new or bad smell. Do not use liquid medicines that have become cloudy or discolored, have thickened or changed in consistency, or have floating particles.
  • They are no longer needed. Do not save unused or unwanted prescription medicines for later use. Leftover medicines such as antibiotics, pain medicine, cough syrup, or eye drops from a previous illness should not be kept to use in the future. Before taking any prescription medicine, it is important to be seen and diagnosed by a health care provider to ensure the correct type and dose of medicine is given.

A few simple steps can help ensure medicines are disposed of safely. If you have any questions about when or how to get rid of medicines, ask your pharmacist.

  • Patients who are part of clinical research should return all study medicines to the hospital pharmacy or clinical research team as instructed. Study medicines given to research participants are closely counted and monitored as part of the research study.
  • Follow these steps to throw away all other medicines including pills, liquids, drops, patches, creams, and inhalers:

1. Mix with an unappealing substance such as kitty litter, dirt, or coffee grounds.


2. Place the mixture in a sealed container such as a zip bag, empty can, or butter container.


3. Throw the sealed container containing the mixture into a trash bin.


4. Scratch out all personal information on the original prescription label on the medicine container, and throw it away.


Questions to ask your doctor or pharmacist:

  • How do I store this medicine? Does it need to be refrigerated or protected from light?
  • What should I do if I did not follow the correct storage instructions?
  • When does this medicine expire?
  • How can I get rid of my extra medicines?
  • Are there any local “medicine take-back” locations?

Resources for more information

Reviewed: August 2018