We all have that one drawer or cupboard in the kitchen or bathroom overflowing with all kinds of medicine and medical supplies. But how often do we really take stock of what’s in there, and do we ever take time to clear it out unless we see an empty container? Keeping medication for too long is, in short, a health hazard for you and everyone else in the household.
Medipost pharmacist Gerda Potgieter says that medicine cabinets need to be cleared out at least once a year. She adds that it’s also advisable to develop a habit of checking the expiry dates on any medication before taking it.
“Examine everything, including ointments, supplements and vitamins and discard any item that is beyond its expiry date,” she says.
“Also discard any items that have changed colour, look as though they may have degraded, become cloudy or have a noxious smell. The chemical composition, and thus the efficacy or even safety, may become compromised over time.”
When it comes to antibiotics, the rules are a lot stricter. Antibiotics should never, under any circumstance, be stored for future use. These should only be taken as prescribed for that specific amount of period given to you by your doctor.
Any use of antibiotics outside of this is likely to be ineffective, and could actually lead to more serious illnesses and antibiotic resistance.
How to dispose of old meds
Unlike most things, the disposal of medicine should be treated with care. The best practice is to take it back to the pharmacy and have them dispose of it in an environmentally-friendly way.
“Throwing unused medicine away in the garbage or flushing it down the toilet can be dangerous, as landfill sites and water supplies become tainted with discarded medicines when people dispose of it in this manner,” Potgieter says.
What’s most important to know is that once medication has been opened, it can easily become contaminated. The moment a tablet is taken out of its container, germs can be introduced which, in some instances, can render the expiry date null and void.
So if medication is no longer in its original container, and you’re not 100% sure what is it — it’s better to just get rid of it. The stability of medication can’t be guaranteed once the bottle or container has been opened.
Where to keep your medicine
While the bathroom might seem like an ideal place to keep your medicine, it’s not. Why? Potgieter explains that the temperature and humidity in a bathroom can lower the potency of some medication.
“Rather store it in a cool, dry place out of reach of children. And contrary to popular belief, storing medication in a fridge does not necessarily extend its shelf life, as the humidity in the fridge may sometimes be detrimental to the stability of the medication.”
If you haven’t cleared out your medicine tablet this year, or ever (*side eye*) — then it might be a good idea to get onto it before you go on holiday.