This is why you should clean up medicine cabinets
While that may save many families a few trips to the paediatrician or the emergency unit, experts agree that if your medicine cabinet is not cleared of expired medication, it may cause more harm than good.
Gerda Potgieter from Medipost Pharmacy says: “Medicine cabinets should be cleared out regularly, as certain types of medicine may degrade and lose their effectiveness over time and may even become hazardous.”
With the start of a new year, this is the best time to spring-clean the medicine cabinet to ensure that the medication is safe for use.
The City of Cape Town's Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health, Zahid Badroodien said: “We also want to encourage residents to do a spring-clean of the medication they have in the home.
In most homes, both over the counter and prescription medication start piling up over time.
“However, as time passes, it reaches expiry dates. Expired medication should never be taken and an audit of what is in the medicine cupboard is advised every few months.”
Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, says one of the dangers of keeping unused medication at home is that it often leads to misuse among teenagers.
“Another concern is accidental medicine overdose, which is surprisingly common in South Africa. Leftover medication is often used to self-medicate, but when the wrong combination of medicines is mixed to treat minor ailments, the consequences could be serious.
“With children, where there is easy access to multiple medicines, it could be fatal. About 40% of calls to the Poisons Information Centre at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital concerning children under 5 years old, are due to the ingestion of medicines.”
Jennings says: “People rationalise and think that leftover medication, which includes vitamins and health supplements, might come in handy someday, but before you know it, those medicines have expired and may cause more harm.
“After expiry, many medications lose their effectiveness and some may even become toxic. It’s important to keep in mind that once a medication has expired, manufacturers can no longer guarantee the medication’s safety or efficacy.”
In avoiding the dangers that come with a cabinet that hasn’t been cleaned out, Potgieter’s advice is: “Examine everything, including ointments, supplements and vitamins, and discard any item that is beyond its expiry date.
“Discard any items that have changed colour, look as though they may have degraded, become cloudy or developed a noxious smell. Chemical composition, and thus the efficacy or even safety of the products, may become compromised over time.
“Many people do not understand how medicine manufacturers’ expiry dates are defined, leading to confusion over whether a particular bottle of medicine is suitable for use,” she says.
“It is important to note that the expiry date actually refers to the unopened product, and indicates that the full potency and safety of the drug can be guaranteed by the manufacturer up until this date.
“Once the medication is opened, the medication may become contaminated. Taking a tablet out of its container, touching an eye- drop bottle to your eyelashes or opening a bottle of cough syrup can result in air and germs being introduced, which voids the expiry date printed on the package.”
MedlinePlus says it’s important to know that heat, air, light and moisture may damage your medicine.
As a safety measure, the company suggests you store your medicines in a cool, dry place. For example, store it in your dresser drawer or a kitchen cabinet away from the stove, sink and any hot appliances.
You can also store medicine in a storage box, on a shelf, in a cupboard.
“If you are like most people, you probably store your medicine in a bathroom cabinet. But the heat and moisture from your shower, bath and sink may damage your medicine,” says MedlinePlus.