Janis Veveris

Spring clean medicine cupboard

JUST like expired foods, storing and consuming medicines beyond their use-by date is a health risk.

All Australians have been urged to regularly clean out the household medicine cabinet after the results of a NPS study revealed one-in-five people admitted to ever having taken an expired medicine.

NPS clinical adviser Danielle Stowasser said collecting old medicines could lead to dangerous consequences.

"If your fridge is overflowing with out-of-date, unwanted and damaged food, most of us don't hesitate to clear it out. However, we often don't pay the same attention to our medicine cabinet," Dr Stowasser said.

"Most medicines slowly deteriorate over time which can make them less effective and, in some cases, toxic.

"It's dangerous to leave these lying around your house, which is why we are encouraging all Australians to spend a few minutes sorting through their medicine cabinet, identifying any medicines that are unwanted or expired, and disposing of these safely at their local pharmacy."

Sunshine Coast Local Medical Association vice-president and Australian Medical Association Queensland general practice spokesman Mason Stevenson recommended residents cleaned out their medicine cabinet at least once a year.

He said when storing medicines, users should take note of not only a product's expiry date but also its storage conditions.

All medicines should be kept in one specific place in the home that was cool, dry and inaccessible to children, Dr Stevenson advised.

"Keep track of expiry dates," he said.

"Expiration labelling (on medicines) is not always prominent so it's advantageous to use a marker pen as a reminder and always check the expiry date before using a medication," he added.

Dr Stevenson highlighted the fact that while some medicines could become toxic and harmful beyond the expiry date, loss of efficacy was a major concern associated with expired medicines.

If the medicine was not stored correctly or had expired, it could lose its potency and effectiveness and therefore would not treat the condition it was designed to, Dr Stevenson said.

He said this was especially concerning for sufferers of serious illnesses and he had seen and heard of several cases where patients had taken expired medicines which failed to treat their symptoms, resulting in the patient remaining sick or their condition becoming severely worse.

Nambour pharmacist and Pharmacy Guild of Queensland president Tim Logan said we should treat clearing out the medicine cabinet like a "spring cleaning job".

He said when people stopped taking medicines and stored them over long periods of time, especially in humid environments such as the bathroom, what was once a useful drug could become harmful or would no longer deliver the therapeutic dose it was designed to deliver.

"You shouldn't have medicine that you're not using hanging around the place," Mr Logan said.

"It (taking expired medicine) doesn't always have adverse reactions but it's not worth the risk.

"Companies put the date on them for a reason."

To dispose of medicines safely, Mr Logan suggested residents return the product to their local pharmacy.

He said most pharmacies took part in the RUM Project, a national scheme responsible for the safe collection and incineration of unwanted and out-of-date medicines.


Medicine-wise tips for cleaning out your medicine cabinet

  • Collect all the medicines including creams, gels, eye drops, vitamins, prescription and non-prescription medicines.
  • Don't forget to check your handbag, car, bedside table, first-aid and travel kits.
  • Look at the expiry date on the label or packaging of all medicines to check if they're still in date.
  • Exclude medicines from your cabinet past their expiry date or that are no longer needed. If in doubt, ask your pharmacist or doctor.
  • If a medicine has an expiry month, this means the end of that month.
  • Arrange to have any unwanted or out-of-date medicines disposed of by a pharmacy.
  • You can return your medicines to any pharmacy for safe and easy disposal through the Return Unwanted Medicines Project.
  • Note all your medicines using an NPS medicines list to help keep track of them - available at nps.org.au/medicineslist or as an app for your iPhone and iPad from the App Store.
  • For more information about the RUM Project, visit returnmed.com.au/.


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