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Don't Forget to Clean Out Your Medicine Cabinet

By Bucciarelli, Alia
Content provided by: Better Medicine from Healthgrades

When you make your spring-cleaning to-do list, don't forget the medicine cabinet. That means properly disposing of unused or expired medicine.

Why proper disposal?

Some medicine is harmful if used by those for whom it's not intended, including children and animals. And disposing of old medications reduces the risk of unintentional use, overdose and illegal abuse. Plus, a wide range of prescription drugs has been found in lakes, streams, rivers and drinking water supplies due to flushing them down the toilet, for example.

How do I throw away medicine?

Follow the disposal instructions on the patient information that comes with your medicine. If you don't have this, throw the medicine in the trash. But be sure to follow these tips:

  • Take the medicine out of its original container. To protect your privacy, scratch off any personal information on the label.

  • Mix the medicine with something that masks the medicine or makes it unappealing, like kitty litter or used coffee grounds.

  • Put the mixture in a container or a plastic bag and place it in your trash.

What about flushing?

Only about 12 drugs should be flushed down the sink or toilet. For a list of these drugs, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's website and use the search terms "disposal by flushing."

Talk to your pharmacist if you have questions about how to dispose of your medicine. Your pharmacist may also be able to tell you about any drug "take-back" programs in your area.

Medicine cabinet must-haves

Everybody takes a little spill here or there or gets a cough or diarrhea and then stumbles around the bathroom trying to find bandages or cough medicine or other medication. That's why you should have these medicine cabinet essentials always on hand.

  • Hydrogen peroxide for wounds

  • Antibiotic ointment

  • Adhesive bandages and sterile gauze pads

  • An oral thermometer

  • Pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, for headaches/other aches and pains

  • Sunscreen

  • Anti-diarrhea medication

  • Cough medicine

  • Cold/flu medicine 

Medical Reviewer: Chang, Alice Last Annual Review Date: 2011-03-01T00:00:00-07:00 Copyright: © 2000-2011 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

Reference: Mental Health and Behavior section on Better Medicine


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In 2011, 2.7% of 8th graders reported having used over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to get high. For 10th and 12th graders, the number was higher – more than 5%.