Once you have sorted out your medication list, the next step of organizing your physical medications at home is essential. Here is a step-by-step guide to help get you going:
#1 Take it all out
Take all your medications out in one spot so you can see all the medications you have at home. This should include any topical creams and ointments, eye drops, inhalers – even supplements and vitamins. Have an empty container or bag to place medications that are to be discarded. You can follow this checklist to decide what should be discarded:
Expiry date Start checking your medications beginning with expiry dates. Discard any item that is beyond the expiry date. Medications may not be safe or as effective after their expiry dates. You can normally find the expiry date on the medication packaging or on the label. Expiry dates are usually put on medications by the manufacturer that produces it or the pharmacist who supplies it. Some medications like eye drops are usually given an expiry date of 4 weeks after first opening the container. This is to ensure its safe use as our eyes are particularly sensitive to bacteria that might get into the eye drop. When in doubt about the expiry date of a particular item, it is safer to discard it. Otherwise, always consult your doctor or pharmacist for advice. Appearance Even if your medications have yet to reach its expiry date, check its contents to observe for any changes in colour, smell or consistency. Medications that have changed in appearance may have been exposed to too much moisture or sunlight. Discard these medications even if they have not reached their expiry dates as the safety and effectiveness of these medications have been compromised. Identity If a medication is no longer in its original packaging or container and cannot be identified, discard it. Unused prescription medications such as leftover painkillers or leftover antibiotics should be discarded. Keeping unused prescription medications that are outdated can be risky as they should not be used for self-medication without a doctor’s advice and can be accidentally taken.
#2 Discard unwanted medications the right way
Medications cannot simply be disposed of by throwing them out or flushing them down the toilet due to potential harm to others and the environment. Once you have identified the medications that are to be discarded, check if there are any specific disposal instructions on the medications labeling or medication information leaflet. Generally anti-cancer medications, antibiotics and medications that can be misused (e.g. opioids) should not be disposed of at home but brought to the pharmacy for proper disposal. If there are no specific instructions on how to dispose of the medications, they can generally be packed in a sealed bag and disposed of together with other household waste, in the rubbish chute or bin. Check with a pharmacist whenever in doubt. Always remember to remove and destroy all identifying personal information on the medication label or container to protect your identity.
#3 Everything has a place
Medications should ideally be kept in a cool, dry place away from moisture and sunlight. However in Singapore with temperatures normally ranging around 30°C, it may be a challenge to find a good place to store your medications at home.
It is commonly misunderstood to store all our medications in the refrigerator believing that it can help to prolong the shelf-life in an island with high heat and humidity. However, unless specified, medications should not be stored in the refrigerator as the moist environment and cold temperatures can cause damage.
Medications should also not be kept in the bathroom cabinet due to the high humidity or above the stovetop due to high heat. They should also be kept away from the curious minds of children. If possible, store medications in the coolest area of the house for example, the storeroom where there are no windows or a kitchen or bedroom cupboard that is away from the window and heating appliances.
Consider categorizing your medications in a divided box or separate boxes instead of throwing them all in to one basket or container. Your family may have parents, young kids, teenagers and grandparents. Organising medications separately with labels helps to avoid confusion and mistakes.
#4 Preventing wastage
If you or your family members have multiple long-term medications, it is easy for medications to accumulate with time. Preventing medication wastage with proper planning and medication organization at home can help to save costs. Here are 3 helpful tips to prevent medication wastage:
When prescribed new medications, limit collection to no more than 2-4 weeks supply to prevent wastage in the event of adverse effects, or if the medication proves unsuitable or ineffective.
Medications that are taken on a “use when necessary” basis should be obtained in small quantities, with more purchased when required. This applies to common household medications such as paracetamol (for pain or fever).
For long-term medications, collect them in installments e.g. a 3-month supply each time or just enough until your next appointment. It is not advisable to collect large supplies at one go as medication changes may happen during each doctor’s appointment as your health condition changes.
Your medications may not spark joy but having a pile of messy and disorganized medications at home could cause confusion. It may even be dangerous and harmful for your health and the people around you. Tidying up your medications helps you manage your health better and helps create a safer environment at home.
About the Author: This article is written by Vanessa Ong. Vanessa is a registered pharmacist with the Singapore Pharmacy Council. She spent several years in the inpatient setting in a local hospital. She enjoyed her time spent in the wards working with a dedicated healthcare team passionate about better patient outcomes. She strongly believes that evidence-based health information can be made simple so that the public can find joy in taking ownership of their health and live life to the fullest.
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