Spring cleaning your medicine cabinet | TapGenes
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When was the last time you really cleaned out your bathroom? If you’re anything like me, it was probably the last time you moved. I was shocked when I cleaned out my bathroom last spring in preparation for a big move. There was more in those cupboards and drawers that I didn’t need to keep than I actually needed to hold on to. The biggest culprit — expired medications.

With five surgeries in ten years, plus a pregnancy and kidney stones (at the same time!), I had more than my fair share of serious narcotic pain killers. That was just the bottles with my name on them! Add in my husband’s collection, and a mix of prescription cough syrups, OTC cold medication and heartburn relief, and we were starting to look like the owners of a small pharmacy. The drugs had to go — but where?

There is an appropriate way to dispose of the unwanted, expired, or unnecessary drugs littering your medicine cabinet, and it’s not dumping them in the toilet. You have a few options, and it’s actually easier than ever to dispose of your “trash” medications.


While there are mixed opinions, the recommendation to put unwanted medicine in the trash is consistent. Some research points to tossing your old drugs in the garbage as even being best disposal method, saying it combats costly take-back programs and reduces greenhouse emissions from incineration. To do so, follow Kaiser Permanente’s recommendation to mix the medication with undesirable substances — like old coffee grounds or kitty litter — then put them in a sealed bag, can or other container and toss. 

Drug take-back programs do exist, but (from what we can find) there seems to be some inconsistencies. Live Science reported that these programs could cost $2 billion per year, and that participation rates aren’t much more than self-managed trash disposal. These programs work by creating centralized locations, typically pharmacies, where you can return your drugs. This search tool from the DEA seemed to be the most current and effective for finding locations up to 50 miles near you. Better than that, just ask your pharmacist, or even doctor’s office, if they’ll take back your drugs. This goes for sharps (used needles), too!

When you do return or trash drugs of any kind, be sure to remove any labels and scratch out names and other personal information. Just one more safeguard in a day in and age when you can never be too sure who has your personally identifiable information.


Do not flush any drugs — prescription or over-the-counter — down the toilet or drain. This puts “antibiotics, hormones and other drugs…into lakes, rivers and other water supplies, where they can affect humans and animals,” researchers reported at Live Science. One more way your trash can destroy the environment. 

Also, there’s no sharing. You should not pass along your pills to someone else, as what’s safe for you could be toxic to them. Not to mention, older or expired drugs lose their efficacy and could have undesired effects. You don’t want to be responsible for that.


As much as you’re throwing out, there may be a few essentials to replenish. And this doesn’t have to be a costly endeavor; remember store-brand prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, as well as other first aid and pharmacy supplies, are just as effective as the higher-priced, name-brand options.

  • Check the batteries in thermometers so you aren’t scrambling when a high fever hits.
  • Replace toothbrushes at least twice a year (this goes for expensive electric toothbrush heads, too!).
  • Make sure Epi Pens haven’t expired, and replace those that have. The pharmacists at Sam’s Club suggest these expire more quickly than other medications.
  • First aid supplies should be examined and replaced, or even replenished if it’s been a long season of bumps and bruises. Consider things like peroxide, Neosporin, new bandages and first aid tape and gauze.


If you have storage options outside of the bathroom — that are still safe and secure away from young or teen hands — then consider storing medicine and drugs there. “Humidity and moisture can cause medicine to deteriorate, which can alter the efficacy of certain drugs,” reported Sam’s Club’s pharmacists. They suggest storing these items in a cool, dry place. Consider a locked box in the master bedroom closet.


One last thing to consider while cleaning out your medicine cabinet… Lock the Cabinet! This campaign is actively working to get people to lock-up their medicine cabinets to prevent teens from abusing addictive prescription drugs. Calling parents “accidental drug dealers,” this non-profit educates families on the pervasive teen drug abuse problem. It’s not happening on the streets as much as we like to spin that tale; it’s happening in home bathrooms across the U.S. And for as effective as this approach is, consistent conversations with your children goes a long way to keep their hands out of the proverbial cookie jar.

TapGenes Take Away: Don’t forget to spring clean your medicine cabinets this season. For the health and safety of your family, it’s best to properly dispose of old medications and replace with new.

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