Safely fall back without expired medications in your home


Daylight Saving Time ends on November 1 and this provides us with a terrific opportunity to make sure the medications that you or your family take are up to date and have not expired. Many pharmacists recommend to examine and clean up any medications that you have stored regularly so why not make it one of your habits when you change your clocks?

It happens more often than you think. You feel unwell and purchase an over-the-counter medication or have a prescription filled to remedy your symptoms so you can get back to feeling like yourself. Somewhere along the way to feeling better, the remaining medication gets put away into a medicine cabinet or cupboard, to be forgotten over time. This most likely sounds familiar to almost all of us.

Express Scripts Canada’s 2020 Drug Trend Report uncovered an alarming trend: as many as 70% of Canadians are not taking their medications as directed by their physicians, which includes not completing the prescribed dosage.

Unused and expired prescription medications can often be found around the home, which can be a real health risk and lead to potential misuse and abuse. Regularly cleaning out your cabinets, drawers and night tables, or any other location around the home, of unused and expired medicine helps to reduce this risk.

Adults and seniors run the greatest risk of inadvertently taking expired or unused prescriptions that are no longer effective, which have the potential for dangerous interactions with other medications. All prescriptions that we get from the pharmacy are labelled with lots of very important information except the date that the medication inside the vial expires. If your doctor prescribes a medication for an episodic condition that may mean that you purposely get more medication dispensed than you will use for an initial flare up. Please be sure your pharmacist marks the date when the medication you received expires.

You’ll want to discard any medications that are no longer in their original container, whose labels have become illegible, or if their appearance, consistency and colour have changed.

Safe disposal of unused and expired drugs can help ensure that medications that may not be safe for everyone don’t end up in the wrong hands.

Watch: Why is it so bad to take someone else’s medication?

Health Canada recommends safe disposal of medications by checking where you store them, examining the expiry date and removing those that have expired or are unused and asking your pharmacist to find out if they’re still safe. You can dispose unsafe drugs through:

  • Take-back programs: Return unused and expired medications to any pharmacy in Canada at anytime. Alternatively, check with your local municipality or police service to see if they offer a take-back program to dispose of your unused and expired drugs.
  • Garbage disposal: If you must immediately throw out the medication, remove the medication from its original container and scratch out all identifying information on the label to protect your identity and health information. Place the medication with other garbage that is unappealing (i.e. coffee grounds or cat litter) to dissuade unintended animals or people from ingesting or removing it. Place the mixture in a closed bag, empty can or other sealed container to prevent leaking or breakage.

It’s important for everyone to do their part to protect the environment from potential contamination from pharmaceutical drugs by disposing of expired and unused medication the right way as listed above.

Read more: Reduce your Rx waste and safely dispose of your medication with these tips

In addition to keeping you and your family safe, you’ll reduce the clutter where you store your medication, and even prevent unnecessary purchase of medication that you already have that have not expired.

For medications that have not expired, it’s always good to ensure you are storing them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Never store different medications in the same container or pill bottle unless it’s a weekly or monthly pill organizer.

There is absolutely no advantage to keeping medications that are outdated or no longer needed. As you change your clocks as part of the Daylight Saving time change, keep everyone in your household safe by disposing of expired prescription and over-the-counter medications as part of your regular home safety routine every fall and spring.