If you’re taking more than a couple of medications every day it can be easy it is to get confused about when you take what. The risk of missing a vital pill, taking the wrong one, or overdosing is very real. That’s why it’s imperative to create and establish a system for organizing your medication and storing it safely.
Medication safekeeping tips
According to the National Capital Poison Center, 55% of poison exposures involved medications, in 2013. In order to keep yourself and those around you safe, as well as to get the greatest efficacy out of your medicine, it’s essential to have good medicine safekeeping practices.
Here’s what you need to know:
Out of reach, out of sight, out of mind: Help protect children and pets from accidental ingestion by eliminating accessibility to your medicine. Also, keep the lids tightly fastened to ensure childproof designs perform properly.
Lock it up: Now that you’ve minimized the risk of accidental ingestion, what about curious teens or even strangers? Prescription medication addiction and abuse is rampant. Keeping your medicine in a lock box, or locking cabinet or dresser can help prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Better to be safe than sorry.
Keep it separate: Is there more than one person living in your home that takes medicine? If so, be sure to store yours in a separate spot, or on a separate shelf, from theirs. This helps prevent a mix up.
Choose a cool, dry location: Heat and humidity can cause medicine to breakdown at an accelerated rate. Although the bathroom medicine cabinet is a popular choice, the shifts in temperature and humidity make it a poor one.
Keep it in its original container: There’s a reason medication bottles are tinted – the amber coloring helps protect the medicine from the damaging effects of light. Plus the containers have a lot of information that you’ll need to access such as expiration date, dosage, and the pharmacy’s contact information for refills.
Discard cotton: Cotton can absorb moisture, causing your pills to breakdown faster.
Make it convenient: In choosing a location, your first consideration must be for the safety of others. Aside from that, you also want to store your medicine in a well-lit place that is convenient for access. It’s also a good idea to have a counter or tabletop nearby so that dropped pills don’t go down the drain or onto the floor.
Keep it all together: Storing all your medications together means only having to look in one place if you need something.
Do a routine check: Every six months or so, go through all of your medication. Dispose of anything expired. Also look for and discard any medication that’s breaking down early. Signs of breakdown include: discoloration, dryness, and crumbling. This indicates that the medicine is losing its efficacy. Also, discard any prescription medicine from a previous illness – never treat a new illness with old medicine, or use it to treat someone else.
See the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines for proper medicine disposal.
Medication: Getting organized
Now that you’ve got your medication in a safe, convenient space where it will have the longest shelf-life, the next step is to create an organized system for taking it.
Any of the following strategies for organization can be used to put your mind at ease and decrease the risk of error. Better yet, using all of them in conjunction will give you a near fool-proof system.
Use a pill organizer: Pill organizers come in a variety of styles and can easily be purchased in a pharmacy or online. Be sure to choose one that suits your individual needs in terms of the amount of medication you take. Look for one with removable compartments that allows you to remove an individual day’s worth of medication from the rest of the week’s supply so that you can take it with you if you’re going to be out. Choose one day of the week to regularly restock your organizer from your main store of medicine bottles.
Note: Because different pills may be combined in one compartment write down what each pill looks like on a piece of paper or index card and keep it nearby so you can easily identify which is which.
Make a schedule: Either using a spreadsheet document on your computer, or a piece of paper, make a chart that lists the name of each medication, the dosage, how often you take it, possible side effects or allergic reactions, and a spot to note if you are no longer taking the medication and when you stopped it. Also include a space for you to check off each dose, as you take it, throughout the day. Print or photocopy multiple copies of the schedule, using a fresh sheet or column each day.
Make a master list: If you take a lot of pills, it may be necessary to have one master list of all your medications (an overview that you can survey quickly and give to doctors or pharmacists for quick reference) in addition to the spreadsheet(s) that serve as a schedule.
Use technology: If you have the budget for it, there are a variety of pill-reminder gadgets and apps like Pillboxie and RXmindme available. Devices can be programmed with a list of your specific medications and the times/doses you should be taking and will notify you with a sound
When it comes to storing and taking medication, a little work and planning on the front end can save you a lot of headache in the long run. Take the steps necessary to keep yourself and those around you safe.
If you or someone in your household has ingested medication not intended for them, accidentally taken an excess amount of medication, or the medication is causing an adverse effect, call the American Association of Poison Control Centers at 1-800-222-1222.