Question: How should I store my medications?

Answer: Many medications begin to break down and lose their potency when exposed to excess heat, moisture, or light. With this in mind, the bathroom medicine cabinet is not a good choice for medication storage. Consider storing medications in a bedroom closet, hallway closet, or a kitchen cabinet away from the sink, stove, or oven.

Most medications should be stored at room temperature away from excess heat and moisture, but always follow the specific storage directions pertaining to each medication.

Storage tips for keeping medicine safe and effective

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach of children.
  • Keep medicines in a cool, dry place.
  • Store medications in tightly sealed, labeled, original containers.
  • Cotton balls should be removed from medicine containers as they draw moisture.

When taking medications, always check expiration dates, and look for discoloration, changes in texture (e.g. crumbling), and changes in odor, which may indicate the medications have lost potency, or rarely, have become toxic.

Refrigerated Medications

Some medications must be kept under refrigeration. It is important to keep these medications out of the reach of children. You might consider a lock box for refrigerator storage for this purpose. Be certain to keep the medication in a location within the refrigerator that does not allow the medication to freeze or form crystals.


While traveling with medications, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Never place medications in the trunk or glove compartment of your car.
  • Always take medications with you when you leave your car.
  • Keep your medications with you in carry-on luggage when flying.
  • Bring medications in their original, labeled containers.
  • Be sure to bring enough medication to last your entire trip, or longer.
  • Carry a letter from your healthcare provider describing your medical regimen and devices you use.
  • Bring with you a list of all of your medications, pharmacy information, as well as your healthcare provider’s contact information.

Medication Disposal

Before discarding any unwanted or expired medications, take precautions before simply tossing them out. It is important that medications are carefully disposed of so that children and animals are not accidentally exposed to them. While most medications can be safely thrown in the trash after mixing them with coffee grounds, kitty litter, or another unpalatable substance, the FDA recommends that a few, select medicines (certain controlled substances such as powerful narcotic pain relievers) be disposed of by flushing down the sink or toilet. These medicines can be especially harmful, and possibly deadly, if taken by someone other than the person for which they were prescribed. Flushing these medicines completely removes the risk of accidental exposure. You can find a list of these medications at

Always follow the specific disposal directions on your medication label or patient information that accompanies your medication.

Look for community drug take-back programs by calling your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service. Drug take-back programs allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. The Drug Enforcement Administration, working with state and local law enforcement agencies, is sponsoring National Prescription Drug Take Back Days throughout the United States.

If no take-back programs are available in your community, throw the medicines in your house-hold trash. To make discarded medicine unappealing to children, and pets, remove the medicine from its original container and combine it with used coffee grounds, kitty litter, or another undesirable substance. Place it in a can with a lid, sealable plastic bag, or container so that it won’t leak out of the garbage bag.

To protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information, scratch out all identifying information.
Don’t give unwanted medicines to others. A drug that is prescribed for you could be dangerous for someone else.

If you are uncertain about medication disposal ask your pharmacist.

Last Updated: November 24, 2013