Safe Medicine Storage and Disposal

Safe Medicine Storage and Disposal (7)


arthritis cap1Figure 1. Popular pain relievers such as Aleve and Advil come in easy-to-open “arthritis caps.”

If young children live with you or visit frequently, be aware that some over-the-counter (OTC) medicines come with "easy open" caps that are not child-resistant. Popular pain medicines such as Aleve (naproxen) and Advil (ibuprofen) (Figure 1) and their generic versions (Figure 2) are available with "arthritis caps" that are easy to open. They are intended to be used by adults who have arthritis and may have trouble using their hands to open containers that are child-resistant. However, children can also open the bottles easily, putting them at risk for accidental poisonings.

equate arthritisFigure 2. Generic versions of popular pain relievers also come in easy-to-open “arthritis caps.”

These medicine bottles with "arthritis caps" are located on store shelves next to the bottles with child-resistant caps. Unsuspecting parents or adults may accidentally select a package with the "arthritis cap" when they intended to purchase the medicine with a child-resistant cap. Once in the home, the medicine may be left accidentally within a child's reach where it can easily be opened.

Here's what you can do to prevent accidental child poisonings with OTC medicines:

  • Whenever possible, purchase medicines that have child-resistant caps if you live with or have young children who frequently visit.
  • Read package labels carefully to be sure the medicine does not use an "arthritis cap."
  • Be sure to store all medicines up and away and out of reach of children, especially if someone in your household needs to use medicine with the arthritis cap.

poison-help-logoThe American Association of Poison Control Centers supports the nation's 56 Poison Centers in their efforts to prevent and treat poison exposures. Poison Centers offer free, confidential medical advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through the Poison Help Line at 1-800-222-1222. This service provides a primary resource for poisoning information and helps reduce costly emergency department visits through in-home treatment.

The AAPCC's mission is to actively advance the healthcare role and public health mission of our members through information, advocacy, education, and research. See the posters below for AAPCC's advice for babysitters, teens, and children.


Caribabysitters1ng for children is a great job, and keeping children safe is a serious and important part of babysitting. In fact, poisoning is one of the most common childhood injuries. Most of the time poisoning happens right at home. Children who are between the ages of 8 months and 6 years old are the most likely to be poisoned.




We’re a generation dependent on smart phones and search engines, and though the Internet can sometimes solve some problems, it’s not likely to save our lives. Poisons act fast. Don’t waste time searching for poison information, which is far too complex to be accurate on a website; call the Poison Help number instead. Every second counts, and you get treatment advice specific to your own situation, free and confidentially.


babysitters3You can get poisoned by eating, drinking, touching, or smelling something that can make you sick or hurt you. Some things, like medicine, can make you sick if you take the wrong kind, or if you take too much. Always ask a trusted grown-up before you take any medicine. Never put anything in your mouth if you are not sure if it is safe to eat. Ask a grown-up first!

SafeMedStorageOTC medicines play an important role in keeping us healthy and treating certain symptoms and conditions when we are ill. But they must be stored safely, and unused portions of these medicines must be disposed of properly to avoid potential drug abuse of OTC medicines, prevent accidental poisonings of children and pets, and to protect the environment. In this section, learn how to find an expiration date on a medicine label, whether it is safe to take an OTC medicine after its expiration date, and how to discard OTC medicine safely. You can also test your knowledge about child poison prevention with a “Jeopardy” style quiz, and learn more about the American Association of Poison Control Centers as well as the national Up and Away Campaign aimed at preventing childhood poisonings through safe storage and disposal of all medicines. A reminder is also provided regarding easy-to-open "arthritis caps" found on some medicines, which can lead to accidental child poisonings.

up and away pictureFamilies take medicines and vitamins to feel well or stay well. Any kind of medicine or vitamin can cause harm if taken the wrong way, even medicine you buy without a prescription.

Up and Away and Out of Sight is an educational program to remind families of the importance of safe medicine storage. It is an initiative of PROTECT, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association Educational Foundation, and other key organizations.

up and away.lady

Take the pledge

Each year, more than 60,000 children end up in emergency departments because they got into medicines while their parent or caregiver was not looking. Together, we can work to keep our children safe. Please take this pledge to keep medicines up and away and out of sight in your home.

I pledge to:

  • Pick a place high up and out of sight that my child cannot reach where I can safely store my medicines and vitamins.
  • Always put every medicine and vitamin away every time I use it, including those I use every day.
  • Always re-lock the safety cap on a medicine bottle.
  • If the medicine has a locking cap that turns, I will twist it until I hear the click.
  • Teach my children about medicine safety.
  • Tell guests, friends, and family about medicine safety and ask when they visit my home to keep their medicines up and away and out of sight.
  • Program my Poison Help center’s number in my phone: 800.222.1222.

More resources...


This is a knowledge game similar to Jeopardy, but several answer choices from which to choose have been provided. To play, click on the game topic in the blue box, read the first item, and select the correct answer choice. The answer choices are presented in the form of a question, similar to the Jeopardy game on television. Although no points, dollars, or prizes will be earned for each correct answer, the knowledge game will present important medication safety information in a challenging way. Once you have completed the game, you can select a different topic to play other games, or navigate to a different section of the website using the navigation menu to the right.

fda disposal pictureMedicines that are no longer used, needed, or expired should be discarded in a manner that protects your family, pets, community, and environment. Consumers were once told to flush old medicines down the toilet. However, recent studies show that medicines disposed in sewer and septic systems might later be found in very small amounts in the environment. So the rule of thumb today is: DO NOT FLUSH medicines. A few exceptions exist. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified thirteen prescription medicines that should be flushed. But no OTC medicines should be flushed down the toilet or poured down the drain.

To throw away your medicines safely, check for approved state and local collection alternatives such as community based household hazardous waste collection programs. Please understand that different regions and states have different ways of addressing this issue, so it is important to follow the laws that are in place in your part of the country for medication disposal. You can safely dispose of your unused and expired medications in your household trash. When discarding unused medications, ensure you protect children and pets from potentially negative effects:

  • Pour the medicine into a sealable plastic bag. If the medication is a solid (pill, capsule, etc.), add water to dissolve it.
  • Add kitty litter, sawdust, coffee grounds (or any material that mixes with the medication and makes it less appealing for pets and children to eat) to the plastic bag.
  • Seal the plastic bag and put it in the trash.
  • Remove and destroy ALL identifying personal information from medication containers before recycling them or throwing them away.

Consult your pharmacist with any questions. For more information, visit: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know.

Drug manufacturers are required to stamp an expiration date on their products. On over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, the expiration date is often printed on the label or carton under "EXP" (see photo) or stamped without ink into the bottom of a bottle, carton, or the crimp of a tube.


But what does the expiration date mean? Is a medicine still safe to take after its expiration date? Will it cause harm or just not work after its expiration date? Neither fully explains what the expiration date means. Actually, it's the date up until which the drug manufacturer can guarantee that the medicine is fully potent and safe to take based on product testing. Expiration dates are typically conservative to make sure you get what you paid for—a fully potent and safe medicine.

The effectiveness of a medicine may decrease over time, but studies have shown that much of the original potency still remains years after the expiration date. Excluding certain prescription medicines such as nitroglycerin, insulin, and liquid antibiotics, most medicines stored under reasonable conditions retain at least 70% to 80% of their original potency for at least 1 to 2 years after the expiration date, even after the container has been opened.1 So, if you have a headache one night, and you reach for your bottle of ibuprofen and find that it expired last year, chances are high that the medicine still has retained most of its potency.

However, it is still advisable to replace medicines that have expired years ago with a new supply to be sure you are using the most up-to-date product with the most up-to-date instructions for use. Since you last purchased the product, new dosing instructions or warnings may be advised; the strength may have changed to reduce the risk of errors; a new dosing device may be available to help measure doses more accurately; the product may be packaged in a new container more child-resistant than an older version of the drug; and so on. So, clean out your medicine supplies regularly, and replace any medicines that are more than a year or two beyond its expiration date.

Reference: 1) Drugs past their expiration date. The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics. October 8, 2002;44(1142):93-94.