The new year is a logical, easy-to-remember opportunity to clean house and start anew, beginning with the disposal of outdated prescriptions and medications. While most drugs lose potency after their expiration dates, some can become toxic and even deadly.

We all have things stored in our medicine chests that probably should not be there. It is very easy to forget about a bottle of ibuprofen hiding behind a box of bandages. Also, people on fixed incomes may be tempted to hold on to unused medication for possible future use. That is a bad idea.

The Dangers

Manufacturers cannot guarantee the strength of their products past the printed expiration date. If a medication undergoes prolonged exposure to light, air and moisture, the active ingredient in the drug can change its potency.

Many drugs simply lose their potency with age. This becomes a major issue when the patient is using a maintenance drug such as an inhaler or a cholesterol-lowering prescription. You could be taking medication that has no effect on your condition and could even be putting you in a very unhealthy situation.

Taking old, expired medication can also increase the risk of a dangerous and even deadly interaction with other medicines that may have been added to your regime since you quit taking the older one. Doctors write prescriptions based on what other medications you are taking and would not expect you to again take the discontinued prescription.


Traditionally, the most common means of drug disposal has been flushing down toilets. However, as the sheer volume of waste grows, increasing concentrations of prescription drugs have been found in municipal water supplies.

According to the Harvard Heart Letter, a publication of the Harvard Medical School, the best way to dispose of drugs is through a disposal program run by your local pharmacy. Check to see if yours has one. If not, check with your city or state waste disposal agency. If you cannot find a better solution, put your old meds in the trash, but keep them in their original childproof and watertight containers. Leave the label on, but scratch off your name for privacy reasons. Put a little water in pill containers and a little flour in liquids, and conceal the containers in a brown paper bag.

Get 2007 off to a healthy and safe start by taking a look at the expiration date on all of your prescription and over-the-counter medication containers and cleaning out that medicine chest.