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Ann Pharmacother. 2013 Apr;47(4):482-9. doi: 10.1345/aph.1R706. Epub 2013 Mar 27.

Behind closed doors: medication storage and disposal in the home.

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Infectious Diseases, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Chicago, IL, USA.



More than half of all medications are inappropriately prescribed, dispensed, or sold and only 50% of patients take their medications correctly. Oftentimes, unwanted or expired medications are saved for later use, stored indefinitely, or disposed via the sink, toilet, or garbage.


To determine how residents in Cook County, Illinois, use, store, and dispose of their medications to assess the possible impact of these medications on health care and the environment.


Researchers at the University of Illinois conducted a survey of Cook County residents over a 13-week period. Residents were surveyed regarding their use, storage, and disposal of prescription and nonprescription medications.


From 3954 telephone numbers generated through random-digit dialing, 445 telephone interviews were completed. Eighty-one and a half percent of respondents had prescription medications and 92.4% had nonprescription medications in their homes. On average, respondents possessed 4.4 distinct prescription and 5.5 distinct nonprescription medications. Despite possessing a number of medications, approximately 30% of respondents stated that they took no medication on a regular basis; 59% of respondents reported disposing medications in the household gar bage and 31% flushed them down the toilet or sink. Over 80% of respondents stated that they had never received information about proper medication disposal. Thirty-seven percent reported having leftover unexpired medications from a previous illness. Of these, 63% stopped taking their medications because they believed that they no longer needed them or because they felt better. Thirty-two percent of respondents expected to have leftover prescription medications within the next 6 months.


Almost all respondents had excess and leftover medications in their homes. This may be a result of both overprescribing and poor medication adherence. In addition to the potential human health risk of nonadherence, disposal of excess medication raises concerns about their environmental impact and safety.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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