Cleaning Out the Supply Closet

 Posted by on December 15, 2008  Add comments  Tagged with: ,
Dec 152008

We call this little closet at the end of our hallway the “supply closet.” In it, we store extra supplies, like Kleenex, toothpaste, toilet paper, soap, etc. We also store all of our medicines here.

Like most people, we used to store medicines in the bathroom. I moved them after reading an article, which said that medicines should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from bright light, such as a kitchen cabinet or bedroom shelf. The bathroom is actually the worst place to store medicines, because the heat and moisture can alter their effectiveness and make them deteriorate more quickly.

The only problem with storing medicines in the hall closet, is that it’s quite difficult to organize all of the small bottles and tubes on such large, deep shelves. The closet is always a big mess, and I can never find anything. I’ve put off dealing with this problem for two reasons – I couldn’t figure out an effective way to organize everything, and I didn’t know how to deal with all of the expired medicine.

Most people have a store of unused and expired prescription and over-the-counter medicines. I used to hang on to expired medicine because I read that many medications are still good after expiration. The dates are based on the length of time a drug was tested – not necessarily how long it will actually last. Some consumer advocates charge that expiration dates are earlier than they need to be, raising health care costs by causing the needless disposal of drugs that are still potent. The FDA has done the only extended research on this issue through its Shelf Life Extension Program, commonly referred to by its acronym SLEP. After studying 1122 lots of 96 different medications, researchers found that 84 percent of the drugs stayed stable an average of nearly five years after their expiration dates when stored in their original containers. Some were good as long as 10 years after the expiration date.

However, it’s been my experience that expired drugs are typically not as effective as fresh. When I was in the hospital during my first pregnancy, I got athlete’s foot from the shower in my hospital room. I used an expired tube of Desitin for several days, and it didn’t help at all. My husband bought a fresh tube, which began to work the very first day. Also, I’ve found that expired painkillers, such as Tylenol, don’t work well for me.

Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that expired medications aren’t worth keeping, especially prescription drugs, which should only be used as prescribed. It’s dangerous to use only a few pills from an antibiotic prescription, and then take the rest at another time. This practice can lead to antibiotic resistance, and self-prescribing is certainly not in the best interest of your health. Also, some drugs, such as tetracycline, insulin, nitroglycerin and liquid antibiotics, can become toxic with age, and cause harm.

So, what do you do with expired medicines? Do not flush them down the toilet! This once common advice has now been retracted, since both prescription and over the counter drugs eventually make their way to the local watershed, affecting wildlife, and back into water used for human consumption. Many pharmacies now have drug recycling programs in place. If you don’t have one in your area, Eco-Cycle recommends that you squirt glue into pill bottles to stabilize the pills, and then seal the bottle and throw it in the trash. A few months ago, when I cleaned out our medicine cabinet, I had my husband incinerate our expired medications in our burn barrel. This is another safe and effective option.

To avoid having to throw out a lot of medications (and money!) pharmacy experts recommend that you do the following:

-Buy medicines in smaller quantities so they won’t expire before you use them up.
-Store medications properly
-Look at the expiration dates before you buy, so you’ll have a longer time to use them.

This morning, I decided that I would tackle the supply closet problem, once and for all. I cleaned everything out, wiped the shelves down, and swept the floor,

and now I’m going to deal with this huge laundry basket full of stuff. I’m betting that at least half of it will be thrown away.

Tune in this afternoon to see the after pictures. I’m sure you’re on the edges of your seats.