Safe Medication Storage Strategies

Where to keep your pills and how to dispose of expired meds

person pouring pills from bottle, sitting on couch iStock-1135088881

Many of us keep our medications in a bathroom medicine cabinet, but experts say that’s not the most appropriate place. “Storing them in the bathroom can introduce moisture to the medications, which can speed up their breakdown,” says Sunny Linnebur, PharmD. Consider keeping them in a hall closet or kitchen cabinet, where they’re less likely to be exposed to moisture from a steamy shower.

For medications you use regularly, choose a spot in a room you frequent daily, such as a small storage bin on the kitchen countertop next to your coffee maker.

More on Managing Your Medications

“The effectiveness of medications comes down to how consistent you are in taking them, so storing them in a place where you’ll easily ­remember to take them is very important,” says Chad Worz, PharmD, a geriatric pharmacist and chief executive of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists.

Just be sure to keep all prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as supplements and herbal remedies, well out of the reach of children and pets. Take the same safety steps for anyone who has dementia.

How to Dispose of Pills Safely

Some drugs can be risky in the wrong hands. So before you throw meds away, see whether your local pharmacy offers a medicine drop-off box or mail-back program, or check for local locations. If you can’t find or get to a nearby program, you can put most medicines into your household trash. Remove drugs from their containers and mix with an unappealing substance, such as cat litter or used coffee grounds. Place in a resealable plastic bag before disposal. Certain drugs, like those with fentanyl (such as Abstral and Actiq) or hydrocodone (like Norco and Vicodin) should not be thrown in the trash. Flush those down the toilet.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article also appeared in the May 2021 issue of Consumer Reports On Health.

Hallie Levine

Hallie Levine is an award-winning magazine and freelance writer who contributes to Consumer Reports on health and fitness topics. Her work has been published in Health, Prevention, Reader's Digest, and Parents, among others. She's a mom to three kids and a fat but feisty black Labrador retriever named Ivry. In her (nonexistent) spare time, she likes to read, swim, and run marathons.