Spring Cleaning Should Always Include the Medicine Cabinet

Senior man looking at prescription drugs in his medicine cabinet

Spring is in in the air, and for many, this is the time of year when they take a look around their homes and begin the process of freshening up things that are looking drab, cleaning areas of the house that have been ignored for months and getting rid of things that no longer serve them. This makes spring the perfect time for seniors to clean out their medicine cabinets and dispose of their expired drugs.

A Cluttered Medicine Cabinet Can be a Dangerous Place for Seniors

Many seniors have a tendency to hold on to expired medications or medications that have long been discontinued “just in case.” This leads to an often dangerous stockpile from which they can inappropriately self-medicate – especially if they suffer from cognitive impairment. Depending on the drug and its potency, this can result in emergency room admissions and for some drugs – like narcotics, blood thinners, and sedatives – the consequences can be fatal. On a recent care management intake assessment, I discovered over 10 medications that had expired and the client was using an expired antibiotic on an as-needed basis, which put him at an increased risk for poor health outcomes, including antibiotic resistance. Here are some more problems with keeping expired medication around the house:

  • Some medications undergo chemical changes over time, which may actually make them dangerous.
  • Neither your doctor nor your pharmacist knows you’re taking expired medications and therefore cannot prescribe new drugs safely. For instance, if you’re on a medication that has a side effect of lowering your blood pressure, and you take an expired medication that has the same side effect, this could cause serious problems.
  • If the medication is something that could potentially be life-saving, such as nitroglycerin or insulin, and you delay buying new medication because you still “have some left,” the medication may not perform the way it’s supposed to, with catastrophic results.

Unintended Harmful Consequences for Younger Family Members

A cluttered medicine cabinet can also lead to unintended harmful consequences for younger family members. According to the Partnership at, 4 in 10 teens who abused prescription drugs sourced them right at home from their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinet. In fact, easier access to prescription drugs is now a leading contributor to drug overdose deaths and surpasses vehicular crashes as the leading cause of injury and death in the United States.

Tips for Ensuring Medication Safety

Take a close look at the prescription medications in your medicine cabinet and take out all those that have expired. Then call your local pharmacy and see if they have a Drug Disposal Program. You can find a complete list of collection sites near you here. If there is no program near you, follow these steps:

  • Remove expired or discontinued medications from their containers and mix them in with used coffee grounds, kitty litter, or dirt from the garden to help prevent drug theft and put the medication/mixture in a leak-proof sealable bag before disposing of them in the garbage.
  • To protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information, use a black marker or scratch out all identifying information on the prescription labels of medication containers to make it unreadable.
  • Never share your medications with others and don’t take or accept another’s medications. A drug that works for you could be dangerous for someone else and vice versa.

With a little work, you can help create a safe environment for both you and your family. Happy Spring!

Written by Anne Sansevero

Categories: Senior Health