Is It Time to Clean Out Your Medicine Cabinet?

Health & Wellness
Last updated: 
An older woman takes time to clean out her medicine cabinet
New Jersey

Depending on where you live, flowers may be starting to bloom or you may be well into spring, preparing to mow your lawn for the first time this year. All of this may bring to mind the need for “spring cleaning.” It is easy to remember to go through your closet and finally donate the clothes you haven’t worn in years or actually tackle your neglected garage. But how often do you remember that it is also time to clean out your medicine cabinet or more likely your “medicine drawer?”

If you are like most people you have a drawer filled with half empty pill containers, expired medicines and a few plastic bags with pills you cannot identify.

Why is This Important?

Here are some hard facts:

  • 70% of opioid dependence, overdose and death starts with leftover drugs around the house. It may be teens visiting or even your own family.
  • Unused drugs are the most common source of misuse and diversion in teenagers.
  • Expired and unsecure medicines are a common cause of accidental poisonings.
  • Expired medications may be less effective.

What Do You Need to Do?

One of your first steps is to look at where you keep your medicines. Are they in more then one place? Gather them all up from your medicine cabinet, drawers in your bathroom and even your travel kits. Next, you will create a box or bag of medications to discard.

  • Check the expiration dates and discard any medication that is over one year old.
  • Look for faded colors or loss of integrity of the capsules/pills.
  • Discard unmarked containers. These may be ones that you created for travel.
  • Discard containers with a few pills leftover or pills you know you will not take.

How Can You Dispose of Medications?

If there are no disposal sites near where you live, here are three easy and safe steps to dispose of your collection of unneeded medications.

  1. Crush and pour pills in a sealable bag filled with coffee grounds, dirt or kitty litter. This will discourage anyone going through your trash.
  2. Remove any identifying information from your containers.
  3. You can flush some medications down the toilet by checking the FDA guidance.  A recent FDA evaluation has changed our attitudes on the impact of this practice on the environment. Go to their website to see what is acceptable. 

Disposal Sites

You can also check with your local pharmacy chain stores, as many of them have a disposal program.  Other alternatives:

  • Local collection sites can be located using the DEA website.
  • is also a useful website to help you dispose of your medications.

A Final Thought to Help Aging Parents

This can be difficult. Opioids, antipsychotics, antidepressants and gabapentin are prescribed in significant quantities to older patients and particularly patients with dementia. Children need to look at their parents’ medicine cabinet/pill storage and then help them clean it out. They may be very resistant to tossing out their medicines, telling you, ‘Wait, I need that!’

There is no significant risk to leaving your closet or garage clean out for another year, but your stash of medications is another story. Now is the time to clean out your medicine cabinet. Be part of the national effort to dispose of unneeded medications. It is the safe thing to do and you will have more room in your medicine cabinet.

The content of this site is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical conditions or treatments.