1 IN 5 Australians have taken an expired medicine: Clean out your medicine cabinet today

27 March 2012

NPS is urging all Australians to clean out their medicine cabinets today as part of national Be Medicinewise Week 2012.

New research* from NPS found around 1 in 5 people reported ever having taken an expired medicine.

NPS clinical adviser Dr Danielle Stowasser says these people could be exposing themselves to dangerous consequences.

“If your fridge is overflowing with out-of-date, unwanted and damaged food, most of us don’t hesitate to clear it out, however we often don’t pay the same attention to our medicine cabinet,” says Dr Stowasser.

“But just like food past its use-by-date can go bad and make you sick, so too can out-of-date medicines.

“Most medicines slowly deteriorate over time which can make them less effective and in some cases, toxic. It’s dangerous to leave these lying around your house, which is why we are encouraging all Australians to spend a few minutes sorting through their medicine cabinet, identifying any medicines which are unwanted or expired, and disposing of these safely at their local pharmacy.”

Dr Stowasser says although it can be tempting to just throw your old medicines in the bin or down the sink, this is a not a good option.

“Medicines thrown down the sink can harm the environment and if you place them in your rubbish bins, there is a risk that children, wildlife or other animals may accidentally ingest them. Instead, take them to your local pharmacist who will be able to dispose of them safely.”

Cleaning out your medicine cabinet is also a good time to start thinking about keeping a NPS Medicines List, which allows you to record all your medicines including important details such as the active ingredient, the reason you are using the medicine and the dose you’re taking.

Recent research** by NPS found that only 20% of people who keep a Medicines List remember to record their over-the-counter and complementary medicines (such as herbs and vitamins) along with their prescription medicines. Furthermore, less than half carry their list with them at all times.

“Medicines can have strong effects so it’s important you record all your medicines and keep your Medicines List with you at all times,” says Dr Stowasser.

“And don’t forget to show it to your health professionals so they can check what you’re taking, and let your family and friends know you have a medicines list in case they need it in an emergency.”


  • Collect all the medicines in your house including creams, gels, eye drops, vitamins, prescription and non-prescription medicines. Don’t forget to check your handbag, car, bedside table, first aid and travel kits.
  • Look at the expiry date on the label or packaging of all medicines to check if they’re still in date.
  • Exclude medicines from your cabinet past their expiry date or that are no longer needed. If in doubt, ask your pharmacist or doctor. If a medicine has an expiry month, this means the end of that month.
  • Arrange to have any unwanted or out-of-date medicines disposed of by a pharmacy. You can return your medicines to any pharmacy for safe and easy disposal through the Return Unwanted Medicines (RUM) Project.
  • Note all your medicines using an NPS Medicines List to help keep track of them – available at www.nps.org.au/medicineslist or as an app for your iPhone and iPad from the App Store.

For more information about the Return Unwanted Medicines (RUM) Project visit www.returnmed.com.au

People with questions about their medicines can also call the Medicines Line (1300 MEDICINE or 1300 633 424), Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm EST.

* This Newspoll study was conducted by telephone in March 2012 among a representative sample of n=1205 respondents aged 18+ nationally.

**  NPS: Better choices, Better health. NPS National Consumer Survey 2010. Sydney: NPS; 2011


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests.We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.