Medicine Cabinet Clean-Out Guide

With a handful of medications that may not be up-to-date, it's time to take the Medicine Cabinet Clean-out Challenge.

Contributed by Nathan McVeigh

Now that National Public Health Week is in full swing (April 6-12), we are calling attention to a hidden safety hazard likely found within the home of caregivers and patients—namely, what’s inside the medicine cabinet. It is easy to overlook safety concerns inside a medicine cabinet considering the contents typically aim to heal and cure. That’s why it’s important to fully understand the medications your loved ones take, how to store them securely, and how to dispose of them properly.


Some Guidelines to Help You Understand Prescribed Medications

There are two points to make here, depending on your role in the situation. As a family member, you have easy access to the details about your loved one’s medications. As a caregiver, understanding these details may be obstructed by privacy rules, so it’s generally recommended that you urge the family to find out as much as they can about their loved one’s medications. Of course, if this isn’t feasible, you may have to visit doctors and pharmacists with the one you care for to correct any issues. Either way, the person who is responsible for the patient needs to be aware of the specific information concerning each medication.


To better understand the medications your loved ones take, be sure you answer questions like these:

– What are all possible side effects of each medication?

– How and where are unused or expired medications to be safely disposed?

– Are any of these medications among recalled medicine?

– What is this medication used for?

– How does this medication work?

– How is this medication taken?

– Should it be taken with or without food?

– Are there any drugs, dietary supplements, or natural medicines that interact with this medication?

– How long before the patient see the effects of this medication?

– How long does the patient need to take this medication?

– What do I do if the patient misses a dose?

– Are all medicines stored in a secured location?


Some Guidelines to Help You Understand Secure Storage

Securely storing medication is wise for older people for a few reasons. First of all, there are patients who have a hard time remembering whether or not they took their medications. Second, there are those who will simply take medicine because they see it and not because they know better not to. Ultimately, storing medications in place as easily accessible as the bathroom isn’t the best place for them.


Here are the guidelines you should keep in mind when storing medications securely:

– Don’t store drugs where they can be exposed to extremely high temperatures

– Don’t store drugs where they can be exposed to extremely low temperatures

– Keep drugs away from excessive amounts of light (especially if placed in dark brown bottles)

– Keep drugs away from excessive amounts of moisture

– Avoid storage on a windowsill

– Avoid storage on the back of the stove


Some Guidelines to Help You Understand Proper Disposal

If medicine goes unused for a long period of time, the ingredients can start to break down or become useless entirely. Most medications can only last until their expiration dates, so it’s important to pay attention to them at all times. Once you identify expired medications, it’s important to dispose of them properly. Sometimes it’s not as simple as throwing them in the garbage can.


Here are some disposal guidelines to remember:

– The Drug Enforcement Administration has public medication take-back locations in select areas

– Certain local law enforcement offices host National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days

– Some communities have standalone take-back programs that function similar to the DEA type programs

– CVS Pharmacies partner with the Sharps Compliance TakeAway Environmental Return program


Take the Medicine Cabinet Clean-Out Challenge

You’re invited to take on the Medicine Cabinet Clean-Out Challenge. Spearheaded by the American Recall Center and National Public Health Association, this initiative continues to be a very informative and proactive annual campaign to help people learn about the importance of understanding medications and all the responsibilities associated with them.

The challenge is organized into the three steps discussed in this article. The hope is that, either as a member of a Lotsa Helping Hands community or as a dedicated reader of the Lotsa Blog, you will see that this challenge is completed in your home and in the homes of those for whom you care, so that everyone can become fully informed about the proper way to handle their medications safely and responsibly. Thank you to the American Recall Center for making this information available to our communities and encouraging all of us to take part in this important initiative.