What to do with expired medication

Don't throw away expired medications

If you’ve ever cleaned out your medicine cabinet, you’ve likely come across prescriptions or over-the-counter (OTC) medications that are past their expiration date. You may wonder whether these are still safe, and if not, what you should do with them.

Read on to find out whether it’s worth the risk.

The safety risks of expired drugs

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against taking any expired medicine because it may not work as intended or may even be harmful to your health.¹

Some expired medications are at risk of bacterial growth, which can cause infection, irritation and other potentially harmful side effects.² Other expired medications may be less effective as the strength of the drug decreases over time. For example, expired antibiotics can fail to treat an infection, potentially allowing the infection to spread and leading to antibiotic resistance or other complications.¹

You should never take tetracycline, liquid medications such as nitroglycerin, insulin, liquid antibiotics or injectable drugs such as epinephrine, past expiration dates.³ In addition, if a medicine appears cloudy or has a different smell, color or consistency than normal, you should not take it—regardless of expiration date.

The safest option is to avoid taking any expired or questionable medicine. But if you already have or are curious about a medicine that’s about to expire, please talk to your prescriber for guidance.

How to store your medicine for maximum effectiveness

Even before the expiration date, medicine can be made less effective if not stored properly. Many people store medicine in their bathroom cabinet, but this is actually one of the worst places to keep it as high temperatures and humidity can affect the chemical composition of a drug and reduce potency.⁴

In general, most medications should be kept in a cool, dry place such as a dresser drawer or closet shelf. Other medications need to be stored in the refrigerator because they’re only effective at a certain temperature, such as injectables like insulin.²

Always check the label of your medicine for any specific storage instructions.

How to throw out expired medicine safely

Expired or not, unused medicine in your home should be disposed of to help keep everyone in your household safe, including children and pets. You can take advantage of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day or find a local disposal center with the Dispose My Meds™ location service.

You can also throw out medications in your household trash, but be sure to follow these precautions:

  • Keep the childproof caps screwed on tightly.
  • Scratch out any personal information on the label.
  • Mix them in water, coffee grounds, dirt or a secure, concealed container.
  • Put them in the trash on the day of garbage pickup.

Only flush medicine down the toilet that’s on the FDA’s flush list.

If you need to dispose of needles, syringes or other sharps waste, check Safe Needle Disposal for guidelines in your state.

How CenterWell Pharmacy® can help you get a new prescription

If you have a medicine that’s expired and need a new prescription, we’re here to make it easy for you.

Start a new prescription online or talk to your prescriber. If you don’t have a prescriber right now, you can find one today through CenterWell Senior Primary Care®.

Filling a prescription online is the fastest way. Once you request your Rx and your prescriber approves it, we’ll ship your meds safely and securely to your door in 10–14 days.

If you need help or have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Our Customer Care specialists and expert pharmacists are happy to help!


  1. Don’t Be Tempted to Use Expired Medicines,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, last accessed March 27, 2024.
  2. Tiffany S. Cross, “Can You Take Expired Medications?” Orlando Health, last accessed March 27, 2024.
  3. Drug Expiration Dates—Do They Mean Anything?” Harvard Health Publishing, last accessed March 27, 2024.
  4. How Do You Safely Store and Dispose of Your Medications?” Drugs.com, last accessed April 1, 2024.


This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional. If you are in a life-threatening or emergency situation, please dial 9-1-1 and seek medical attention immediately.

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