From prescription drugs to daily vitamins, nearly everyone keeps medicine in their home. While it’s important to have your medications on hand when you need them, it’s also necessary to be responsible for their proper use and safekeeping.

Follow this guide to learn how to best care for and keep your medications.

Storing medication

“It’s good practice to keep medications in a dry, cool place that is safe from children and pets,” said Francisca Akoh, pharmacy manager at MountainView Hospital. “Some medications require protection from light or need refrigeration, so always read the label for special instructions.”

Storing medicine properly can help ensure it stays fresh and effective for as long as possible, while also limiting the chances for misuse.

DO ... Read the label, follow the directions and note the expiration date. Go through your all medications every six to 12 months and discard any that are no longer needed and/or are expired.

DO ... Keep it in its original bottle. Prescription and manufacturer bottles are created to protect the medication from light and moisture, and are childproofed.

It’s also handy to have the original bottle in case you need information from the label — including refill directions.

DO ... Throw away the cotton in a new bottle immediately after opening.

Cotton is used to prevent the pills from shaking around, but it needs to be discarded as soon as the seal is broken. Cotton can draw and absorb moisture, which can negatively affect the medication.

DO ... Keep all medication (even vitamins) out of reach and out of sight if you have children in the home.

Make sure all the lids are tightly secured. You might also consider using a small locked box or cabinet to store medication.

DO ... Call your doctor or pharmacy if any of your medication has been exposed to liquid, heat or has begun to deteriorate prematurely.

DON’T ... Combine different medications in one bottle.

While consolidating your meds may save space, it also can lead to mistakenly taking the wrong pill or confusion over what’s what. Some medications may even react with others negatively when kept in the same container.

DON’T ... Store medicine in the medicine cabinet — despite what its name suggests.

Moisture tends to linger in bathrooms, even well-ventilated ones, which can compromise medication. Bedrooms, closets and storage areas are better options.

DON’T ... Leave medicine in the car, near the oven/stove or anywhere else it may be subjected to heat.

Akoh notes that exposure to excessive heat is one of the most common reasons that medications go bad before their expiration date.

Expiration dates

All prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications are required to have an expiration date to guarantee freshness when kept appropriately. “It is not recommended to take medicine once it’s expired,” Akoh said.

Pills, capsules and tablets usually have a longer shelf life than liquids, ointments and creams (including eye drops). Most expiration dates for pills range from one to five years, while some liquids can destabilize within months.

After a medication has passed its expiration date, it begins to lose its efficacy and, in some cases, it may be dangerous to use.

Medication can go bad before the expiration date if it’s been stored improperly. Signs that medication is no longer good include discoloration, a change in texture (crumbling pills, cream that has liquefied, etc.) and/or odor. Medicine in liquid form may also grow bacteria or mold.

Disposing of medication

Remove all medication from the bottle and “mix it with an undesirable substance such as used coffee grounds or cat litter, and throw it in the trash,” Akoh said.

Dispose of the bottle separately, after you’ve removed or scratched out any personal information on the label, including your name, your doctor’s name, the name of the medication and the prescription number.

Another option for disposal is bringing the medication to a secure drop-off site. “You can dispose of unused or expired medications at any Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department substation. It’s anonymous and drop-off boxes are located inside,” Akoh said.

Find a complete list of locations in Clark County.

Generally, you should never flush any medication down the toilet or drain. However, the Food and Drug Administration has endorsed doing so for a short list of potentially dangerous prescription drugs — including some pain-relieving narcotics.

Search for specific drugs and their disposal guidelines.

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