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Need to know: Expired medications are harmful and ineffective

Last Modified: July 02, 2021

Safety & Prevention


This post was written by Katherine Oetting, Pharmacy intern, Parkview Health.

Medication is a helpful tool to recover from various injuries and ailments. It can help with pain management, resolving infections and addressing a variety of symptoms. But once that medicine expires, it’s important to dispose of it properly, for the safety of yourself and others in the home.

The harm of using expired medications

The chemical composition of a medicine changes over time, making expired medications ineffective or possibly harmful. Additionally, some expired medications carry the risk of bacterial growth. Expired medications can also be harmful to children and pets if taken by mistake.

The use of expired medications

Taking expired antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance, the development of harmful bacteria that become resistant to common treatments. Taking incomplete doses can also lead to antibiotic resistance. Overusing antibiotics can kill healthy bacteria in the body. This can lead to diarrhea, GI upset, yeast infections and even an infection called C. Difficile.

You could be using the wrong antibiotic or the wrong dose. Different antibiotics treat different types of bacterial infections. Antibiotics are tailored to a patient’s age and weight, especially children, so a patient should never use medications prescribed previously or for someone else.

Proper medication storage

Read the label to see if your medication has any specific storage requirements. Avoid storing medications in the bathroom, where they are more likely to get damp and become ineffective. Most medicines should be stored in a cool, dry place such as a dresser, kitchen cabinet or closet shelf. When storing medication in a kitchen, make sure it is not near any hot appliances or the sink. The temperature changes can cause the medication to become ineffective.

How to dispose of old or expired medications

Check to see if there are any local “take back” locations. Local pharmacies, police and/or fire stations may have a drug take back program.

Fort Wayne locations include:

  • Walgreens: Coldwater Rd, Stellhorn Rd and West Jefferson Blvd
  • Meijer: Maysville Rd and Illinois Rd
  • Walmart: Southtown Crossing
  • CVS: East State Blvd and South Anthony Blvd

To check for locations near you, visit the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) drug disposal website.

How to dispose of medications at home

1. Read the medication label for any specific discard instructions.

2. Check if your medication is on the FDA “flush list.” Some medications must be flushed due to their misuse/abuse potential or harm if taken incorrectly.

3. If not on the flush list: Take prescriptions out of their original containers, mix medications with cat litter, dirt or coffee grounds in a sealed container and dispose of in household trash.

4. Be sure to cross out any personal information on medication bottles before placing them in the trash.


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