What You Need to Know About Storing and Disposing of Medications

What You Need to Know About Storing and Disposing of Medications

M.D. Creekmore Health and Fitness

What You Need to Know About Storing and Disposing of Medications

by CB

There are some basic principles that need to be taken into consideration when saving medication, which includes the expiration date, storage conditions, and what type of medication you are attempting to store. 

The easiest way to get extra medication would be to start refilling your medications five days early from the pharmacy.  This will give you a small amount that will slowly increase over time.  Alternatively, you could get samples from the doctor’s office (this will only apply to brand name products).

Make sure to keep the medications in the original containers, if possible, and, as with food storage, employ the FIFO (first-in-first-out) strategy to help ensure the best expiration dates possible.

Medications should be stored in a dry, cool space that is preferably in a darker place.  Medication cabinets in the bathroom places next to heat (like stoves) and areas of high humidity should be avoided because they cause the medication to deteriorate faster and reduce shelf life. 

Generally, the medication should be good for 1 year past the date on the prescription bottle.  Occasionally, some pharmacies will print the expiration date on the medication bottle.

Medications that DON’T store well

Some medications that are for serious conditions, like myocardial infarctions (or heart attacks), some anticoagulants, or “blood thinners,” and other medications have shorter shelf lives.  These should be followed closely since the amount of medication in these disease states is extremely important.  A short list of medications that should be closely monitored for expiration dates and storage include:

  1. Pradaxa (dabigatran) – store in an original bottle; expires 4 months after opening
  2. Nitroglycerin (sublingual, spray, etc) – store in original container; expiration: sublingual – 6 months, spray – 3 years
  3. Insulins – all insulin should be stored in a refrigerator until ready to use.  Insulin can be stored at room temperature away from direct sunlight after it has been used for the first time.  Expiration dates for insulins vary (see table).  The expiration date should be the date from 1st use or the expiration date on the vial or pen, whichever comes first. 
Drug Name Expiration date – after 1st   use
Lantus (insulin glargine) vials, cartridge, pens 28 days
Apidra (insulin glulisine) vial, cartridge, pen 28 days
Humalog (insulin lispro) vial, cartridge, pen 28 days
Humalog mix 50/50, 75/25 Pen – 10 daysVial – 28 days
Humulin R U-100, U-500 vials 31 days
Humulin 70/30 vials, pens Pen – 10 daysVial -28 days
Humulin N (insulin NPH) vials, pens Pen – 14 daysVials – 31 days
Levemir (insulin detemir) vials, pens Vials – 42 daysPens – 42 days
Novolog (insulin aspart) vials, pens, cartridge 28 days
Novolog mix 70/30 vials, pens Vials – 28 daysPens – 14 days
Novolin N vials 42 days
Novolin R vials 42 days
Novolin 70/30 vials 42 days


  1. Insulin Test strips – store in the original bottle away from direct sunlight at room temperature.  Follow the expiration on the test strip bottle.
  2. Also, note that the meters themselves can go “bad” after several years and can give false readings if not replaced.
  3. Aggrenox (aspirin and dipyridamole) – store in the original container

Medication Disposal

Medication disposal is crucial to keep medications from contaminating the drinking water supply.  Some medication does enter the water via human waste, which has shown up in fish that have been sampled.  We can control, however, unused medications from entering the water supply. 

Unused or expired medications, including medications that you can buy over-the-counter, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) should all be disposed of properly.  That can be accomplished a few different ways.

There are now yearly medication “take back” programs at local pharmacies and even law enforcement offices (for controlled substances such as pain killers) where patients can drop off unwanted or expired medications.  If you choose to do this, black out your name, address, and the prescription # off of the bottle.  If it is a controlled substance (such as Oxycontin®), make sure to leave the name of the drug on the bottle.

If you want to dispose of the medication at home, pour a little water in the pill bottle (after removing the label) to dissolve the pills.  Then, add a substance such as coffee grinds or bleach that will make the pills unpalatable to anyone that may dig through your trash.

Recap the bottle and throw away.  If the pills are in the “blister packs” that require you to pop them out individually, wrap them in several layers of duct tape and then dispose of. For patches, like Lidoderm® or nicotine patches, fold in half and wrap in duct tape or put unpalatable substances on them.

As a brief aside for nicotine products, especially the patches, make sure they are in something that dogs cannot or would not want.  Dogs can easily develop nicotine poisoning by chewing on used nicotine patches.

There are also services available, like the TakeAway® program where you mail the unwanted medications (postage paid) to a disposal factory. For details on the TakeAway® program, ask your pharmacist if that program is available in your area.   Note: this does not include controlled substances such as prescription pain killers, testosterone.

Note: This information is not intended as medical advice or to replace the advice of a physician – always seek the advice of your Doctor first. Also, medication information, including stability, is sometimes updated and listed dates and information presented here are an approximation only.  For the most up-to-date information on expiration dates of any medication, check the package insert or information provided from the pharmacy.  You can also ask your pharmacist or Doctor for more information. 

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