What You Need to Know About Storing and Disposing of Medications

This is a guest post by CB and entry for our non-fiction writing contest.

Storing Medications

image97208 iconThere are some basic principles that need to be taken into consideration when saving medication, which includes the expiration date, storage conditions, and what type of medication you are attempting to store.  The easiest way to get extra medication would be to start refilling your medications five days early from the pharmacy.  This will give you a small amount that will slowly increase over time.  Alternatively, you could get samples from the doctor’s office (this will only apply to brand name products).

Make sure to keep the medications in the original containers, if possible, and, as with food storage, employ the FIFO (first-in-first-out) strategy to help ensure the best expiration dates possible.

Medications should be stored in a dry, cool space that is preferably in a darker place.  Medication cabinets in the bathroom, places next to heat (like stoves), and areas of high humidity should be avoided because they cause the medication to deteriorate faster and reduce shelf life.  Generally, a medication should be good for 1 year past the date on the prescription bottle.  Occasionally, some pharmacies will print the expiration date on the medication bottle.

Medications that DON’T store well

Some medications that are for serious conditions, like myocardial infarctions (or heart attacks), some anticoagulants, or “blood thinners,” and other medications have shorter shelf lives.  These should be followed closely since the amount of medication in these disease states is extremely important.  A short list of medications that should be closely monitored for expiration dates and storage include:

  1. Pradaxa (dabigatran) – store in original bottle; expires 4 months after opening
  2. Nitroglycerin (sublingual, spray, etc) – store in original container; expiration: sublingual – 6 months, spray – 3 years
  3. Insulins – all insulin should be stored in a refrigerator until ready to use.  Insulin can be stored at room temperature away from direct sunlight after it has been used for the first time.  Expiration dates for insulins vary (see table).  The expiration date should be the date from 1st use or the expiration date on the vial or pen, whichever comes first. 
Drug Name Expiration date – after 1st   use
Lantus (insulin glargine) vials, cartridge, pens 28 days
Apidra (insulin glulisine) vial, cartridge, pen 28 days
Humalog (insulin lispro) vial, cartridge, pen 28 days
Humalog mix 50/50, 75/25 Pen – 10 daysVial – 28 days
Humulin R U-100, U-500 vials 31 days
Humulin 70/30 vials, pens Pen – 10 daysVial -28 days
Humulin N (insulin NPH) vials, pens Pen – 14 daysVials – 31 days
Levemir (insulin detemir) vials, pens Vials – 42 daysPens – 42 days
Novolog (insulin aspart) vials, pens, cartridge 28 days
Novolog mix 70/30 vials, pens Vials – 28 daysPens – 14 days
Novolin N vials 42 days
Novolin R vials 42 days
Novolin 70/30 vials 42 days


  1. Insulin Test strips – store in original bottle away from direct sunlight at room temperature.  Follow the expiration on the test strip bottle.
  2. Also, note that the meters themselves can go “bad” after several years and can give false readings if not replaced.
  3. Aggrenox (aspirin and dipyridamole) – store in original container

Medication Disposal

Medication disposal is crucial to keep medications from contaminating the drinking water supply.  Some medication does enter the water via human waste, which has shown up in fish that have been sampled.  We can control, however, unused medications from entering the water supply.  Unused or expired medications, including medications that you can buy over-the-counter, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) should all be disposed properly.  That can be accomplished a few different ways.

There are now yearly medication “take back” programs at local pharmacies and even law enforcement offices (for controlled substances such as pain killers) where patients can drop off unwanted or expired medications.  If you choose to do this, black out your name, address, and the prescription # off of the bottle.  If it is a controlled substance (such as Oxycontin®), make sure to leave the name of the drug on the bottle.

If you want to dispose of the medication at home, pour a little water in the pill bottle (after removing the label) to dissolve the pills.  Then, add a substance such as coffee grinds or bleach that will make the pills unpalatable to anyone that may dig through your trash. Recap the bottle and throw away.  If the pills are in the “blister packs” that require you to pop them out individually, wrap them in several layers of duct tape and then dispose. For patches, like Lidoderm® or nicotine patches, fold in half and wrap in duct tape or put unpalatable substances on them.

As a brief aside for nicotine products, especially the patches, make sure they are in something that dogs cannot or would not want.  Dogs can easily develop nicotine poisoning by chewing on used nicotine patches.

There are also services available, like the TakeAway® program where you mail the unwanted medications (postage paid) to a disposal factory. For details on the TakeAway® program, ask your pharmacist if that program is available in your area.   Note: this does not include controlled substances such as prescription pain killers, testosterone.

Note: This information is not intended as medical advice or to replace the advice of a physician – always seek the advice of your Doctor first. Also, medication information, including stability, is sometimes updated and listed dates and information presented here are an approximation only.  For the most up-to-date information on expiration dates of any medication, check the package insert or information provided from the pharmacy.  You can also ask your pharmacist or Doctor for more information. 

Prizes for this round in our non fiction writing contest include…

  1. First place winner will receive –  A $150 gift certificate for Hornady Ammo  courtesy of LuckyGunner, a Wonder Junior Deluxe grain mill courtesy of Kitchen Neads, a one year subscription to the Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable and 1 Case of Survival Cave Food Chicken with 12 14.5 oz. Cans courtesy of LPC Survival.
  2. Second place winner will receive – $100 off of your next order of  Fish Antibiotics courtesy of Campingsurvival.com and a Survival Puck  courtesy of SurvivalPuck.com .
  3. Third place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of TheSurvivalistBlog.net and a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of www.doomandbloom.net.

Be sure to read the rules before entering… This contest will end on March 17 2014


  1. Nebraska Woman says:

    CB. thank you for this article.
    I burn my old aspirin, etc. as I live in the country and am permitted to do this.

  2. That was my thought also N.W. I just toss them in the wood stove

  3. Hunker-Down says:

    The DW is on a dozen long term prescriptions and we have been using your method to stockpile and rotate her meds.
    And thanks for the disposal instructions, I’ve added it to our survival library.

    Regarding shelf life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ph0LtznsDH8

    • I agree. Certain medications will be safe up to 5 yrs or more if stored properly. (cool dark place) Liquid medications, along with sprays, capsules & injectable, should NOT be stored long term.

  4. When my Father passed away recently, it was interesting watching the nurse dispose of his pain medications. She crushed the pills, then mixed with water. She then placed the solution into another bottle with something else in it (I have to check with my sister to find out what), to neutralize it.

  5. I recommend you check the article at Doom & Blooms web site regarding expiration dates.

    • I read this same report and it also confirms what my friends in the military also said about meds. This throwing them out after expiration is the biggest scam in history. What they do during the drug collection days is repackage and send them to third world nations and resell. The whole system is a scam. There are only a few medications that should be thrown out after expiry I can’t remember what they are off the top of my head but I remember one is an anti-biotic.

      • most all antibiotics, blood pressure medications, local anesthetics, pain pills- have been studied and show nearly full activity after five years past expiration with many ten to twenty years. None go “bad”. Tetracycline used to turn toxic, but it was due some of the fillers which have been changed. It is the one that we were told not to take if expired.

        good link- http://www.doomandbloom.net/new-evidence-on-expiration-dates-2/

  6. Good things to know,especially since my wife is now on meds she cant live without.

  7. Seems to me I read somewhere you can freeze insulin and it lasts a long time. I ran into the problem with lantus when prescribing it for my patients. The medicine would go bad before the end of the month and then their blood sugars would go whacky. Easy and convenient to use but nothing is free. Trade off somewhere. As far as other meds go I have a question I would like you to answer for yourselves. Do you think medicine siting in a bottle on a shelf is fine one day and then the next it is expired because the date on the bottle came and went? NOPE. So why is it put on the bottle? Litigation purposes or because the drug companies want you to buy new meds. In a grid down situation I would never be afraid to use a medicine that was expired by a few months to a year. There are some exceptions like nitroglycerin and a few others but very few go bad that quick

    • You can freeze Insulin but it must be flash frozen using Liqued Hydrogen or you can also due it with dry ice in an insulated box as the freezing rate of dry ice on a vile is under a minute.

  8. fifth_disciple says:

    It may be appropriate to remind everyone that prescription medications should be kept in an original container with the prescription info and doctors name clearly visible. The Controlled Substances Act in most states make it illegal to carry a drug outside of the original container. I know someone who was prescribed Vicodin and put it along with their other meds and herbals in one of those Monday-Sunday medicine container/dispensers and was arrested and convicted for violation of the Controlled Substances Act in their state. This applies to all prescribed medicines, not just narcotics. I also know a guy who was arrested because he had a Viagra in his wallet.

  9. I go to a pain clinic and when I have a medication change they have me bring in the unused pills. they put out a tissue on the desk and have me pour out the remaining pills and they stand back and watch me count them out. Then have me pick up the tissue and place it in the bottle then we go with a additional person and we all go and flush them. I asked why we put them into the water system. They said that they are so scared of being accused of taking meds. They will not do it any other way. We flushed a whole bottle of meds. that were $3600 a month

  10. Novolin N vials 42 days
    Novolin R vials 42 days
    Novolin 70/30 vials 42 days

    they re good up to 48 days . After 48 the sugar started to rise but slowly. I figured could go to 50 days but bottle would be empty,

  11. If you have drugs that you really want to get rid of leave the pills in the bottle, fill the bottle with liquid dish soap and reclose, then put the bottle into a zip-lock bag and wrap with duct tape. This works with the patches too, just put them into a zip-lock bag and pour liquid dish soap into the bag, wrap will duct tape. Then throw the bag into the trash. The soap keeps animals out of the drugs and destroys them so people won’t want them either.

  12. As far as disposing them , just sell them to a tweeker , expired or not they wont care .

  13. Thanks for the helpful article. I have an ammo can full of extra meds I need to go through and see whats safe to store and what is not. BTW Sheriffs Offices here in Georgia will take old meds and destroy them properly a lot of them have drop boxes.

  14. mom of three says:

    What we do when we get a fresh bottle of prescription pills, is to rotate them every month that way we know what is fresh. I wait about six month’s in between buying over the counter drug’s, so we have a time to use them and when we get a fresh batch the expiration date is farther out.

  15. Be sure to keep your nicotine patches/gum/etc away from children too! The nicotine in 2 cigarettes can fatally poison a toddler if consumed all at once — it wouldn’t take many pieces of gum to achieve that!

    Also many cats love tobacco (because it’s in the same plant family as catnip) and they may try to chew up cigarettes or loose-leaf tobacco. About 10% of all cats try to eat/chew any tobacco products they can get to.

  16. If you have drugs that you really want to get rid of leave the pills in the bottle, fill the bottle with liquid dish soap and reclose, then put the bottle into a zip-lock bag and wrap with duct tape.

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