House Call: Medicine cabinet makeover

It is important to remove expired medications from our medicine cabinets to avoid hazards such as accidental poisoning or ineffective treatment. Joining us for this week's House Call is Sonny Hoskinson, Director of Pharmacy at UHC.

1). Why is it so important to be mindful of expiration dates and disposal of medications from your medicine cabinet?

The medicine cabinet in your house can easily become overstuffed with pills, potions, and creams that have expired or are no longer needed. However, holding on to these can be dangerous. It is important to weed through your medicine cabinet on a regular basis. I recommend doing so every six months, a good time to begin this process is in January and then again in June. This regular habit could protect your family from some risks of drug side effects.

2). Is it ever wise to use medication beyond the expiration date?

That really depends as some products degrade quickly, including liquid antibiotics and compounded medications. You should get rid of those immediately after the expiration dates stamped on the label. Compounded medications are created just for you and made in a form you can tolerate, such as a suspension liquid instead of a pill.

However, some government studies have suggested that many prescription drugs are good even three years after the expiration date. It is best to talk to your pharmacist first, since each medication has different stability properties. I recommend that you do not keep drugs that have been shown to fail stability test past expiration dates, such as aspirin, nitroglycerin, and insulin.

3). What should we be keeping in our medicine cabinet?

You should consider keeping the following:

* Aspirin for emergency heart attack response (chew one 325-mg tablet and call 911 if you think you are having a heart attack)

* Painkiller, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), or acetaminophen (Tylenol)

* Hydrocortisone cream for itch relief

* Antibiotic ointment for minor cuts

* Antacid for heartburn, such as combination magnesium and aluminum (Maalox, Mylanta)

* Artificial tears to relieve dry eyes

* An antihistamine for allergy relief or itching, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl)

* A medicine for diarrhea, such as loperamide (Imodium)

4). What should we be disposing of when it comes to our medicine cabinet?

The FDA urges all of us to dispose of medications properly. The best way is to take advantage of drug take-back events held by various communities. You can go to to find out where in your community a take-back event is being held. Let me provide a word of caution when it comes to expired medications, these drugs might not work well or could even be dangerous. Do not risk it. Also, make sure you notice if anything that seems off. Pills that are crumbly, clear liquids gone, cloudy and anything with an odd smell may not be safe.