Insurance and Finance

How to Handle Your Household’s Medications

By Jennifer Chappell Smith and Callie Leahy 7.6.15

Regularly cleaning out the medicine cabinet may or may not be on your list of household chores, but it should be. The expiration date is just one reason to take inventory of medications kept on hand — it’s also important to protect your household from medicines that may be degraded, misused, or disposed of improperly. Here are a few things to keep an eye on:

Storing Medicine

You may keep all your pill bottles and cough syrups jumbled up in your medicine cabinet to soothe midnight colds or whip out during flu season. But do you know the best way to store them safely? Watch for the following:

  • Humidity. If you keep medicine in the bathroom, near the shower, stop. Humidity can degrade certain medications. Keep your household’s medications in a safe, dry place out of reach. 
  • Expiration dates. When drugs expire, they may lose potency. But some can actually become harmful — like tetracycline, an oral antibiotic, and aspirin, which develops a vinegar smell.
  • Sunscreen. FDA regulations require that sunscreen remain at full potency for three years. If your purchase doesn’t have an expiration date printed on it, write it on there with permanent marker and keep tabs on it as time goes by so you know when to toss it. The American Academy of Dermatology points out that if you regularly use sunscreen, you shouldn’t have too many full bottles left over.

Administering Medicine 

If you’re a parent, chances are you’re in charge of not just your own health, but everyone’s health in your home. Make sure you are always following direct instructions from a doctor, even if you think you know what to do, whenever using medications. Watch out for these pitfalls:

  • Heavy-handed doses. People may think that if one tablet is good, two is better. Or they might think that every three hours is close enough to the “every four hours” that the label instructs. But it’s important to take medicine per the directions on the packaging and no more.
  • Interactions. Because many similar drugs have the same active ingredients, you can take too much without realizing it. Getting pain medication at the dentist for a procedure and then taking headache medication that evening and another headache dose the next morning can make it easy to surpass the 4-gram limit within 24 hours for acetaminophen. Make sure and monitor all drugs you’re taking and ask your doctor how they may interact.
  • Recalls. Check FDA.gov for recalled medications and other medication safety tips. You can also sign up to receive a newsletter with regular notices of recalls and warnings from the FDA.
  • Teething gels. Who knew numbing medicine for tooth and gum pain could lead to serious health complications — even death? The FDA warns that benzocaine, an active ingredient in gels such as Orajel and Anbesol, can cause a condition called methemoglobinemia, which makes red blood cells unable to carry oxygen. Warning labels about this condition aren’t required on teething medications. But the FDA says that parents of children under age 2, who often use such gels for teething pain, should only do so under direction of a doctor. Symptoms include pale or blue lips, skin, and nail beds; shortness of breath; headaches and tachycardia, or racing of the heart.

Disposing of Medicine

How do you dispose of old medicine? Throw it in the trash … right? Wrong. This might not seem like a safety hazard, but it can prove extremely dangerous. Follow these steps: 

  • Follow directions. If your prescription doesn’t include instructions, use one of the following disposal methods.
  • Mix and seal. Mix whole medication with an unappealing substance like soured milk and secure it in a sealable container. It’s important not to crush medication before throwing it away — this makes it easier to accidentally expose someone who could unknowingly touch or inhale it.
  • Time your disposal. Another safety measure you can take is a simple one — wait until trash day to discard medication. This limits the window for potential exposure as well as the possibility of drug theft.
  • Think safety, not convenience. Bathroom trash cans are often the easiest for children and pets to access because of their size and height.
  • Find take-back programs. Community or pharmacy take-back programs, the Food and Drug Administration’s preferred option, offer a safer alternative to discarding medication at home. Use the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration’s neighborhood search feature to find a location in your area.

Call your local Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent today for more information about your family’s health; they’re working with Blue Cross Blue Shield to provide comprehensive health insurance to Texans. Find out here how to safely dispose of other household items

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