For many people, medications are a mainstay for preventing and treating disease. Managing multiple conditions and multiple medications can be confusing, especially if you store some of your pills in the medicine cabinet and others in a kitchen cabinet or pill drawer. Every once in a while, it’s a good idea to take inventory of all of your medications. As a reminder to do just that, the American College of Endocrinology has declared April 15th as National Check Your Meds Day. Here’s what the college recommends:
- Look everywhere you may store medications—medicine cabinet, bathroom counter, toiletry bag, refrigerator, purse, sock drawer, etc.
- Check the label for the name of the prescription and the dosage. Confirm that what you got from the pharmacy matches what your doctor prescribed. Contact your pharmacy if they don’t match exactly.
One reason the American College of Endocrinology recommends this kind of inventory is that insurance companies or pharmacies may substitute one brand-name or generic medication with another one without notifying you. Although this usually doesn’t make a difference, it’s good to know exactly what medication and what formulation of it you are taking. (If you aren’t 100% sure what a particular pill is, you can look it up at the Pill identifier on Drugs.com.)
Another reason is that it’s important to check expiration dates. For most medications, going a few months beyond the expiration date is okay. Beyond that, it’s time for a new prescription.
If you have expired medicines, don’t just toss them in the garbage. They could pose a safety hazard to children or animals if they somehow get out of the trash. Medicines in dumps and landfills are also making their way into our drinking water. Some pharmacies take back expired medications. The Boston Police Department and some other local law enforcement agencies offer collection boxes for out-of-date medications. If you can’t find a take-back program, here’s what the FDA recommends for most drugs:
- Take the medication out of its original container, mix it with used coffee grounds, kitty litter, or dirt, and put this unappetizing blend in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid or in a sealable plastic bag. Put the container or bag into your regular garbage.
- Scratch off the prescription label and any identifying information from the original container to protect your identity and the privacy of your health record, and recycle or dispose of the container.
The FDA’s Web site provides a list of the 25 “flush-only” drugs as well as more information on disposing unwanted medications.