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How To Organise Your Drug Cupboard

There is no right or wrong way to organise your drug cupboard, in fact there are quite a few different ways you might want to do this. The most important thing is to categorise your medications to make them easy to find when you need them. No body wants to be searching for the Panado in the middle of the night with a screaming baby.

How you group your drugs is really up to you and also depends on your individual family’s needs. Depending on how many children you have you may want to keep their medications separate from yours or if anyone takes any chronic medications you may also want to label a container specifically for them.

Below are some simple steps to help get your drug cupboard organised.


Take all your medications and whatever else you keep in your drug cupboard and lay it out on a table. This way you will be able to see what all you have, what is actually finished and what is missing. I can’t tell you the number of times I have gone in search of the ibuprofen for myself, only to discover I don’t actually have any.


Before you start grouping your medications you should have a look at all the expiry dates. Here again, you will be able to add to your shopping list of drugs you need to replace. You should throw all your expired medications into a bag to take back to your pharmacy for safe disposal (see my previous blog post for more information on this).


Now comes the hard work, which can actually get quite confusing. How to best group your medications is a personal preference but I find that if you keep it simple it works best. The amount of groups you make also depends on the amount of space you have for storage. These are my groups.

  • First Aid (includes a first aid kit)
  • Pain & Fever
  • Tummy (nausea, vomiting, constipation and diarrhoea meds)
  • Allergies
  • Eyes & ENT (ear, nose and throat)
  • Colds & Flu
  • Vitamins & Antibiotics
  • Chest (this includes the nebules and saline for the nebuliser)
  • Miscellaneous
  • Daily

I have a daily container, which comes out in the mornings. This makes it easy for me to remember taking my vitamins and any other medications we may be taking acutely, such as antibiotics. Your groups may look different if you don’t use a nebuliser for example, or take any daily meds, or maybe you only have one nose spray that you can group together under allergies. Once you have grouped all your medications together you will be able to see how many separate containers you will need and also how big they need to be. If you don’t have any or enough containers lying around at home, you can get a wide range of different sizes from West Pack Lifestyle stores.

It’s also important for Dad or a caregiver to be able to find the drugs, so don’t get too fancy or try grouping together too much drugs. Mom will almost always know where each drug is kept because more often than not she is the one who bought and packed it away.


Where you store your drugs is important. You need to keep them out of reach of your children and pets and also in a cool, dry place. The bathroom is not a good idea because the heat and moisture from the shower and bath will damage your medication and affect its efficacy. If you choose to store them in the kitchen make sure they are away from the stove, sink and any other hot applicance. I keep my medications in the pantry out of reach of my daughter, the dog, the heat and direct sunlight.

You should always keep your medications in their original containers and do not throw away the information leaflets once opening the boxes. You never know when you need to refer back to them to look for a side effect or drug interaction.

Some medications have silica gel sachets inside them. It’s a good idea to keep those in the bottle because they help absorb moisture in the air and keep your tablets and capsules dry. The cotton ball things you can throw out because those actually pull moisture into the bottle. They are only there for transportation to prevent the tablets from knocking about in the bottle and breaking.

It’s as simple as that! Now you have a tidy and organized drug cupboard, which will not only save you time but also money. You won’t end up buying something you already have because now you know exactly where it is.

How To Discard Of Expired Or Unused Medications

I usually go through all my medications during National Pharmacy Month in September since that’s when I usually remember to do so. It’s also the month I make time to reorganise my drug cupboard. However, this year I have seen many of you start off the new year by decluttering your homes and doing a little bit of “spring cleaning”.

If you are doing this then I definitely recommend going through your medicine box because if you are anything like me, you probably have lots of half used medications that have probably expired.


It seems an absolute waste to throw away medications that are unused or even only half used. Interestingly, a study done by the FDA found that most drugs are actually still safe and effective to use as many as 15 years past their expiry date.

The expiry date is really a guarantee from the manufacturer that the drug will maintain its full potency and effectiveness up until said date. The overall effectiveness of a drug depends on the potency of all its individual ingredients and how the drug is stored in your home. This makes it difficult to determine how long a drug will truly be effective for, outside of a controlled laboratory environment. This is why it’s better to just adhere to the expiry date and discard of your medicines once this date has been reached. You really don’t want to be giving your child a less potent antibiotic, which may result in antibiotic resistance, or a less potent antiepileptic and then your child develops a breakthrough seizure.


Worldwide, the recommended and safest way to dispose of medication is simply to return them to your pharmacy. In South Africa, this is actually the only recommended method of disposal. Pharmacies are by law required to take back your expired or unused medications. I do not know however how well this law is being enforced because as a healthcare professional I did not know about it. In fact on questioning some of my colleagues they confessed to simply just throwing their medications away with their general trash.

I am pretty sure many of us are guilty of this and in some countries it’s not totally wrong, if done properly. This is an alternative used in the US, if you are unable to take back the medication to the pharmacy. What you need to do first is try and disguise them so that they are less appealing to children and even pets if they come across them before you throw them away.

Remove all drugs from their original containers and blister packs and mix them with something like coffee grounds, sand or even kitty litter, this includes liquids. This helps disguise the medication. Put this mixture into a sealable bag and throw into the trash, preferably a bin outside of your house. It is not advisable to crush pills or empty capsules beforehand because of the risk of exposure to the drug through your skin and even by breathing in the dust. Drugs are usually released slowly into the body and by exposure through crushing the immediate dosage may be much higher than normal and can be toxic.

People also like to flush drugs down the drains and toilets, especially liquids. The problem with disposing of drugs in the trash or flushing them down the drain is that at some point they will end up in a landfill or a water system, where they can be harmful to the environment; plants, animals and even humans since they will inevitably find their way back into our food chain. Interestingly though, some medications do actually indirectly end up in our water systems, without us even realizing, since the drugs we take pass through our systems, and the byproducts are eventually excreted in our urine or faeces.

In the US again they actually do allow some drugs to be flushed down the drain if they cannot be taken back to a pharmacy. These are mostly your Opioids and its derivatives, as well as the Benzos such as Valium. The risk of these getting into the wrong hands far outweighs the negative effects on the environment.

There are some special considerations with inhalers. These devices use gases to propel the medication out of the canister. Unfortunately some of these gases are powerful greenhouse gases so these definitely need to be returned to the pharmacy because if not the canisters will end up on some landfill somewhere and continue to release these gases if not completely empty.

You can also check the packaging and drug information leaflets before disposing of the medication. There may be instructions for disposal of that particular drug. Apparently such guidelines are going to be implemented in South Africa in the near future.


Some glass and plastic medicine bottles can be recycled depending on what type of glass and plastic resin they are made up of. The plastic parts of inhalers can usually be recycled. You should be able to confirm this with your local recycling plants. There are also lots of ways to repurpose old medicine bottles and get crafty with your little ones.

Blister packs are a little trickier because they are a combination of foil and plastic and are therefore not readily recycled in this form. You can however try to separate the parts by peeling away the foil carefully from the plastic (I actually tried this the other day and I found it almost impossible). But the plastic recycling may still be a problem because one can never (or rarely) identify the type of plastic resin used. The foil is readily recycled and so are the paper boxes that house the blister packs. Always remember to remove all personal identifiers on prescription labels before throwing packaging away.



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