Practicing Prescription Safety

By: Laurie Wesolowicz, director of Pharmacy Services at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

Approximately 60 percent of American adults take a prescription drug. With that in mind, it’s important for people to know how to safely consume, store and dispose of their medications. When it comes to expiration dates, storage and disposal, the correct methods of each can be interpreted differently by everyone. So, what’s fact and what’s fiction? Read on to inform yourself of the important precautions you should take to ensure proper handling of prescription drugs.

  • Expiration Dates

Many  pharmacists have a general rule of thumb in mind when evaluating expired drug safety. In 1979, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) passed a law requiring drug manufacturers to put expiration dates on prescription and over-the-counter drugs. The expiration date is the date up until which the drug manufacturer can guarantee safety and full potency of the drug. Generally, expiration dates range from one to five years from the time of manufacture, but evidence has shown that the original levels of potency may remain for years after. Still, keep in the mind the following:
o   Medicine intended for a life-threatening condition, such as nitroglycerin, Epipen or insulin should be used only up to its given expiration date. It’s important to pay attention and obtain a new prescription supply once past its deadline.
o   Medication used for aches, pains or heartburn are generally okay to use past the expiration date if they have been stored in their original container
o   Above all, exercise your best judgment when evaluating medications – if it has a strong odor, change in consistency or appearance—discard the medication immediately.

  • Storage

When it comes to safely preserving a prescription up until its expiration date (or beyond), one thing to keep in mind is proper storage. According to the National Council on Patient Information and Education, the following tips are important to remember:
o   Organize medications by family member to avoid ingestion of the wrong medication.
o   Keep in mind where you will open prescription bottle(s) in case something gets dropped; avoid storage in cabinets and shelving above drains and/or dirty floors.
o   Refrain from storing prescription bottles in dark places; good lighting will help to ensure you’re taking the right drug.
o   Do not dispose of original packaging—the amber containers are meant to protect medications from light and provide directions for proper use.
o   Never store multiple medications in one bottle.
o   Remove cotton balls from prescription bottles. They are meant to absorb moisture, but can affect the drug if left too long.
o   Heat, humidity and moisture may damage certain medications. Store them in cool, dry, ventilated areas.
o   All medications should be kept out of the reach of children.
o   Consider securing medications, especially prescription pain medications to keep out of reach of children and protect against potential theft or accidental overdose.

  • Disposal

Though many people may think simply throwing old or unneeded prescriptions in the trash is an effective method of disposal, they’d be surprised to find this approach can actually be dangerous for themselves or others in the long run. The National Council on Patient Information and Education, provides a few ways you can safely clear out your medicine cabinet:
o   Remove prescriptions from their original containers.
o   Mix medications with an adverse substance such as kitty litter, or place them in a container that is impermeable and unidentifiable, such as empty cans or sealable bags.
o   Never flush prescriptions down the toilet unless the label gives specific instructions to do so.
o   Utilize community pharmaceutical take-back programsavailable in your area.
o   Don’t keep unused prescription pain medications in your home “just in case”.   Many opioid addictions start out from pain medications obtained from the homes of friends and family.

Laurie Wesolowicz is director of Pharmacy Services with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more tips on how to live a healthier lifestyle, visit

Supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

MI Asian Staff
Author: MI Asian Staff