Storing medication appropriately is key in ensuring its effective and safe use. Here are some important principles to remember.
What does the expiry date of a medication mean?
The expiry date that appears on the packaging of medication corresponds to the maximum period during which the medication is the most effective and meets the quality standards outlined by the manufacturer. The expiry date applies to medications kept in their original container in the conditions recommended by the manufacturer. It is often expressed in months and years, e.g. 08/2023. This implies that the medication can be used until the last day of the month of August 2023.
One must abstain from taking or administering the medication once the expiry date has passed. It is also important to clean out your medicine cabinet regularly to avoid medication errors and to dispose of expired medications.
What about the medications provided by your pharmacist?
When your pharmacist supplies you with medication outside of its original container, he/she must indicate the expiry date on the label. However, this date may differ from the one provided by the manufacturer. For example, for medication in the solid oral format (tablets, caplets, capsules, etc.), the expiry date set by the pharmacist is usually for one year. Of course, if the expiry date of the manufacturer is less than one year away, this is the expiry date that will be used.
Once a drug has been removed from its original container, its new expiry date varies and is estimated based on the drug’s dosage form (cream, ointment, suppositories, syrup, etc.) by the pharmacist. For example, for eye drops or ointment for the eyes, your pharmacist will recommend that you throw the product away after 30 days, as the risk of microbial contamination with these types of products once they have been opened is high.
Where should your medication be kept?
Medications are not all stored the same way and it is important to read the recommendations indicated on the manufacturer’s or pharmacy’s labels. Should you have any questions about respecting the shelf life of a medication, talk with your pharmacist. Generally, medication must be kept in an area that is:
- Not exposed to direct sunlight
- At no risk from freezing or overheating
- Out of reach of children
Medication is often kept in the bathroom, which is a bad habit. This is not a good idea since dampness and temperature fluctuations do not make the bathroom a good place to store medication.
Is it a good idea to refrigerate medication?
Some medication must be refrigerated, i.e. maintained at a temperature between 2 and 8°C. It is important to refrigerate only those products that need to be, and not the others. This ensures the safety and quality of medication and by the same token it ensures their effectiveness. It is not recommended to keep medication in the refrigerator door since they are subjected to temperature variations every time the door is opened.
To carry refrigerated medication from the pharmacy to your home, your pharmacist will sometimes recommend the PJC Thermo-Control Envelope. This is an insulated envelope in which your medication is carefully placed between two cold packs, thus allowing the medication to be kept at the recommended temperature. Do not hesitate to ask your pharmacist for more information.
How do I discard expired or unused medications?
Do not discard your expired or unused medication in the trash or flush them down the toilet. Bring them back to your pharmacy for their safe disposal. If you use syringes and needles to inject medication at home, your pharmacist will provide you with a safe container for free, which will be used to transport the used syringes and needles back to the pharmacy.
A few practical tips
If you have any doubts about how to ensure the shelf life of your medication, do not hesitate to talk to your pharmacist. Here are a few tips for extending the shelf life of your medication:
- Always check the expiry date of medication that you purchase or take.
- Opt for smaller formats to avoid waste.
- Carefully read the manufacturer’s recommendations for extending the medication’s shelf life.
- Choose an appropriate place to store your medication, such as a cupboard or drawer in a room that is not exposed to temperature variations or dampness. Note that a car is never a good place to keep medication.
- If you have children, ensure that the medication is locked away.
- When travelling by air, carry medication with you in your hand luggage.
- Keep medication in its original container where possible.
- Keep your medication in containers with child-proof tops where possible.
- Never keep more than one type of medication in the same container.
Speak to your pharmacist if you have any questions on how to safely store and take your medication.