Medication Safety

Empty That Medicine Cabinet: Safe Medication Storage Tips

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Modern medications can remedy a range of ailments — from reducing the symptoms of the common cold to regulating blood pressure or making chronic pain manageable. Taken as directed or prescribed, they can help us enjoy better health and an improved quality of life.

To ensure your medicines can work as well as they should and to protect those who share your home, it is important to store drugs properly. And when you no longer need them or they’ve expired, safely disposing of them is equally important.

Gay Alcenius, a pharmacist who has managed the acute care pharmacy at Henry Ford Allegiance Health for the last 19 years, offers these medication storage tips.

Storing Your Medications

First, Alcenius advises you to think about where you keep your prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.

  • Empty that medicine cabinet. Heat, air, light and moisture may damage your medicine. That means keeping your pills in your bathroom’s “medicine cabinet” is not a great idea. Over time, all that humidity can make meds less potent. Pills and capsules are easily damaged by heat and moisture. Aspirin can break down into a combination of vinegar and salicylic acid, so instead of helping you feel better, the aspirin may irritate your stomach.
  • Find a cool, dry spot. To protect your medications, store them in a cool, dry place like a dresser drawer or kitchen cabinet—so long as it’s not near the sink or above the stove or other hot appliances like your toaster. Other options to consider could be keeping medicine in a lockable storage box on a shelf or a cool, dry closet.
  • Follow instructions. Of course, some medications must be kept cold. Store them in a small plastic container within your refrigerator and follow the instructions from your pharmacy. 

Next, be sure to keep medicine in its original bottle and pay attention to its condition. For example, if you notice your medicine has changed in color, texture or smell, do not use it. If your pills stick together, or are cracked, chipped or harder or softer than you know is normal, do not use them or even keep them around.

Protecting Kids, Pets and Others

When it comes to medication storage, Alcenius reminds you not to forget those in your household who may be at risk, like children and toddlers, teens and young adults, and even pets.

  • Store them locked and/or out of reach. Store your medication where children cannot reach or even see them. Consider using a cabinet with a childproof safety latch or lock.
  • Keep an eye on your purse. Avoid carrying pills in your purse, making them easily accessible to little ones who may mistake tablets for mints or candy.
  • Choose childproof caps. A child’s well-being is worth a momentary inconvenience.
  • Protect your vulnerable pre-teens and teenagers. Teen drug abuse often begins with easy access to medications at home. Be vigilant about keeping over-the-counter and prescription medications in a locked cabinet or other inaccessible storage. Ask grandparents and other relatives to do the same. Keep an up-to-date list of all the medications in your home so you can be sure if something is missing.
  • Don’t forget pet safety. Remember to keep medicines away from curious pets too. If your pet takes medications, you may want to consider separating those from your medications to prevent mix-ups.

Related Topic: From Toddlers to Teens: Medication Safety Tips for Parents

When & How to Safely Dispose of Medications

Regularly (at least annually) check all medications and dispose of any that have expired. Prescription medications have a “use by” date. All over-the-counter medications have an expiration date, usually on the side of the bottle or on the bottom of the tube (for ointment or cream). Some wound care products also have expiration dates, so check those too.

Discard unused prescription medications when these medications are discontinued or changed. For example, do not save unused pain medications after a minor surgical procedure. It is important to dispose of these unusable drugs properly.

“Look out for your own health, and ensure the proper storage and safe condition of your medications. At the same time, be absolutely sure to take action to keep others who share your home safe,” says Alcenius.

Take time today to take stock of your medications, and make sure they are stored properly and safely. If you have questions, your pharmacist is a trustworthy resource.

Want to talk to a pharmacist about medication storage or disposal questions? Find a Henry Ford Pharmacy near you.


Gay Alcenius, Pharm.D., is the clinical manager of the acute care pharmacy at Henry Ford Allegiance Health.