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What’s in your medicine cabinet?

Would you ever dream of serving milk long after its expiration date has passed? Probably not. Chances are, when you use up everyday items, anything from bread to batteries, you put them on a list and pick them up the next time you go shopping. However, are you that diligent with your medicine cabinet?

PillsThe one place in the home that is considered the source of health and safety – the medicine cabinet – is often the most neglected, rife with unsafe or misused products that can cause more harm than good, and lacking essentials that have run out. Here is a quick guide to get your home’s “health hearth” back on track.


Ditch the medicine cabinet, particularly if it is in your bathroom. Not only does a bathroom medicine cabinet offer children and visitors easy access to potentially dangerous drugs, the changes in temperature and humidity can effect the quality of many medications. Try setting aside space in a linen closet or kitchen cabinet (away from the stove). Wherever you choose should be up high and locked, away from curious hands.


Try to go through your medicines twice a year – maybe at the start and end of Daylight Savings Time – to check for expired dates. Kelly M. Shields, an assistant professor of pharmacy practice and the director of drug information at the Raabe College of Pharmacy at Ohio Northern University, says that some products undergo chemical changes that can make them ineffective or even unhealthy. If a drug has a few weeks or months to go, Shields suggests storing the bottle upside down as a reminder of its pending expiration. And when throwing away medications, put them in a zippered sandwich bag or other container so pets and children cannot get at them in the garbage can.


Meatloaf makes a nice leftover. Prescription antibiotics do not. “Antibiotics are something you do not want to hold on to,” Shields states, adding that many people stop taking their medicine after they start to feel better. “If they feel sick again a week later and try taking the same antibiotic, the organisms have been exposed to the medication already and could have developed a resistance.” That means you are taking medication with no purpose. However, long-term prescriptions that treat symptoms (medicine for coughs, nausea, pain or sore throat) can be kept until they expire. However, they should only be used by the person for whom they were intended. “Not only is it illegal to take medicine that has not been prescribed to you,” Shields says, “It isn’t safe.”


If you have children in the house, there is even more reason to take a second look at your stock of medicines. The Food and Drug Administration recently recommended no level of dosage of over-the-counter cold and cough remedies for children under the age of two. New guidelines are expected soon, but until then, Shields says the medication shouldn’t be used unless you are specifically instructed to by a pediatrician. You can hold on to the medication just in case your child’s doctor ever wants you to use it, but make sure whoever is caring for your child knows not to dispense it unless otherwise directed. And make sure you throw it away when it expires.


The American Red Cross lists 10 items that should be kept in a First Aid Kit: assorted adhesive bandages, assorted sterile dressings and adhesive tape, non-latex disposable gloves, tweezers, a non-glass non-mercury thermometer, triple antibiotic ointment, antiseptic wipes, first aid instructions, specific medications prescribed by your family physician as well as common medications such as aspirin and topical antihistamines, and a CPR breathing barrier.

“Ideally, kits should be kept in a place that is easily accessed by everyone in the home, except for small children,” said Don Lauritzen, an American Red Cross health and safety expert. “It is always good to have a kit handy in workrooms and garages.”

Be sure to replenish anything you take out of the kit, and check the expiration dates on the perishables like baby aspirin.


If you aren’t sure about something, ask for help. “Don’t guess,” Shields urges, “This is too important. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist knows you and your history and it’s easy for them to take a look at your file and give you an educated answer.”

Shields runs Ohio Northern University’s Drug Information Center that answers 400 to 500 phone calls about drug information per month. You can reach the center at (419) 772-2752.

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