PharmacySpring has sprung and many of us are feeling that familiar itch to tidy and purge our homes & closets. One more chore to add to the spring cleaning list: clean out your household supply of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.

Just like the dosing instructions and additional information on the label, the expiration date on the packaging is there for reason. Once a medicine has reached its expiration date, it may not provide the treatment that you need. Smart to refresh the cabinet annually. Now is the time and this weekend, ideal!

To ensure the medicines you take are both safe and effective, keep an eye on the expiration dates and safely dispose of any expired or unwanted medicines. I talked with my friend and colleague, Dr. Suzan Mazor who is an expert in toxicology and emergency medicine about expiration dates and here’s what she had to say:

Drug manufacturers are required to stamp an expiration date on their products. This is the date at which the manufacturer can still guarantee the full potency and safety of the drug.”

Traditionally, I counsel families to be really careful with life-saving medicines. Injected epinephrine (for life-threatening allergies) is a perfect example — after expiration it’s less effective. So it’s a MUST to replace those injectors at home and school after expiration as they are used in acute/urgent/life-saving situations (and I’m not exaggerating). Other products like sunscreen are less effective after expiration, too. Not life-threatening but what chore to use it wisely and well and then be using an inferior product.

Although there are expiration exceptions (some pills are likely very effective years after expiration yet many liquid antibiotics will expire even just 10-14 days after they are mixed). But who wants to give stale medicine to their babies or children at any time? Stale crackers seems pitiful enough. Smarter to purge of the old stuff every year and improve safety.

There are several ways to safely dispose of your old medications. In-home disposal of all OTCs is safe and convenient. Follow these simple steps from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to dispose of OTCs in your household trash without too much worry:

  1. Mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds.
  2. Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag.
  3. Throw the container in your household trash.

Many police and fire stations, along with local pharmacies accept expired or unwanted medication. You can check here for locations near you.

Why Can’t You Flush Them Down The Toilet?

Raanan Bloom, Ph.D., an environmental assessment expert at the Federal Drug Association (FDA) explains:

The main way drug residues enter water systems is by people taking medicines and then naturally passing them through their bodies,” says  “Many drugs are not completely absorbed or metabolized by the body and can enter the environment after passing through waste water treatment plants.”


New Data On Safe Disposal:

  • According to research conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the CHPA Educational Foundation, 62% of adults have never sought information on how to properly dispose their expired over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.
  • 50% of adults say they typically dispose of unwanted or expired OTC meds in the trash but only 8% mix them with undesirable substances before tossing.
  • More information on safe disposal or the consumer survey on the KYOTCs site here.


5-13 know your OTCs

This post was written in partnership with In exchange for our ongoing partnership helping families understand how to use OTC (over-the-counter) meds safely they have made a contribution to Digital Health at Seattle Children’s for our work in innovation. I adore the OTC Safety tagline, “Treat yourself and your family with care all year long.” Follow @KnowYourOTCs  #KnowYourOTCs for more info on health and wellness.