Spring Cleaning: The Medicine Cabinet

Small lock box from Walmart
Have you ever opened up your medicine cabinet and get frustrated with the number of bottles stacked and shoved in all corners of it? How about not even remembering exactly what that prescription was originally for? Have you ever found yourself sitting in an urgent care, acute care, or - heaven forbid - an emergency room having to rattle off the names, doses, and reasons for a prescription you currently take? 

I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt. 

After a recent trip to the ER, I found myself drawing a blank about these very things. What was I taking? What was it for? What was the dosage? Who even prescribed it for me? Truth be told, at 3am and in serious pain, you don't always remember. That is one reason why I keep a list in my wallet with all of this information recorded, along with the prescribing physician's phone number. 

But, you need to keep this up to date. Mine was missing a newly prescribed medication and no longer contained one I had forgotten about. This can be very dangerous when it comes to hospitals, or even acute/urgent care clinics, to dispense medications that not only work best for you, but with the other medications you are taking. Also on this list, you need to ensure you notate any drug allergies you might have. I was lucky the surgeon was in the room when I found out I was allergic to morphine. Not a fun thing to find out. 

These steps will ensure that any urgent visit to a doctor keeps you well prepared.

With it being spring cleaning time and all, there is another place we need to take special care, and should on a regular basis: that medicine cabinet I mentioned earlier. Did you know that our water is now tainted with so many prescription drugs that you are probably well dosed with Prozac and don't even know it? No, it's not a pharmaceutical company conspiracy (down, Michael Moore, down boy!). It is actually a product of two things: normal elimination through our bodies, and the disposal of prescription drugs down the sink and/or toilet. Even tossing them in the trash can cause trouble. 

Proper disposal of prescription medicines is now an even more urgent matter than before. I'd hate to think that I'm ingesting a drug I'm highly allergic to just by drinking a glass of water. Most pharmacies now offer free drug disposal services, and even recycle the bottles now. All you need to do is gather them up and take them.

That brings us to the cleaning part of this. First, check the dates. Any prescription that is more than a year old should be disposed. Most prescriptions do begin to go through some sort of chemical breakdown and can change the efficacy of a drug that could render it useless, or even dangerous.

Next, if it is a leftover bottle of antibiotics, get rid of it. Antibiotics should always be taken through their full course with none leftover. You should never, ever take leftover antibiotics for an undiagnosed issue. This is where antibiotic resistance comes in and can also make illnesses worse. Besides, not all antibiotics are made alike. If you didn't finish it, and it has been there for awhile. Add it to the pile for disposal at the pharmacy.

And finally, go through your OTC drugs. Check their expiration dates. Do not dispose of them either, but take them to the pharmacy for disposal as well. 

Now that you have cleaned out the old from the current, start by designating shelves. If there are two of you sharing that cabinet, designate one shelf for you, and the other for your husband/wife/significant other. Use the others for OTC drugs that you use frequently.  

The key is to keep your medicine cabinet up to date. Most pharmacies will advertise on occasion this service, so I would take that opportunity to do a once over of your medicine cabinet. A clean medicine cabinet also helps to ease the headache of finding what you need, when you need it. And, it impresses the nosy friend who thinks snooping through your medicine cabinet is fun.

Oh, and one last thing. If you have children, consider investing in a small locking box from someplace like Walmart (found in their office supplies department). Lock any medications not dispensed into a weekly pill box in it, then place it in a safe spot and the key in a separate location. I do this for myself, even if I don't have children. 

I'm not a medical professional, just someone who cares. So, happy spring cleaning!