Proper storage and disposal of medications

Published: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 16, 2013 at 3:23 p.m.

Q: My husband is recovering from a ruptured appendix, and a nurse said the medicine cabinet isn't the best place to store his pain meds. Isn't that what it's for?

— Alice W., West Lebanon, N.H.

A: Medicine cabinets in the bathroom expose medications to heat and moisture from a shower or bath, and that can speed the breakdown of drugs, especially tablets and capsules. Generally, your best bet is to put all medications in a cool, dark place — a lockable cabinet or a small, locked storage box in your bedroom are good choices, especially if you have kids or kids visit your house. (Thousands of children are hospitalized every year because of accidental poisoning.) Also, check the package insert that comes with each prescription to see if there are special storage instructions concerning temperature, moisture or light.

But your responsibility for safe handling of medications doesn't stop there. Once your husband is back on his feet, he may have pain medications left over. You need to dispose of them properly.

Rule No. 1: Don't flush any drugs down the toilet. Many meds can pass through wastewater treatment plants' filtration systems and end up in ground water, rivers and lakes. So far, the Environmental Protection Agency hasn't found evidence that pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics, hormones and steroids in drinking water harm people, but male fish have developed female characteristics because of exposure to endocrine disruptors, including pharmaceuticals, in rivers and streams. So play it safe:

■ Use a "Drug Take Back" program or "Pharmaceutical Collection Event." These are managed in cooperation with local law enforcement. Call your local precinct for details.

■ Ask your pharmacist if the store has a drug-disposal program; many do.

■ If you are going to dispose of meds in your garbage: Remove labels from pill bottles; dissolve remaining pills with vinegar to discourage foraging animals from ingesting them; tape the container closed; place that in a sealed, non-transparent bag. Don't take it outside until garbage pick-up day.

Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at youdocsdaily@sharecare.com.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top