Be medicinewise and clean out your medicine cabinet today

1 February 2011

Australians are encouraged to spend a few minutes cleaning out their medicine cabinets today, as part of national Be Medicinewise Week.

The week, run by NPS, highlights how little attention we give to our medicines and aims to help people become more ‘medicinewise’.

 NPS clinical adviser, Dr Danielle Stowasser, says we should be giving as much consideration to our medicines as we do our food.

“Just as you wouldn’t drink out-of-date milk, taking medicines that have passed their expiry date can be harmful to your health,” she said.

“Over time medicines slowly deteriorate and can become less effective or in some cases, toxic. By keeping out-of-date medicines in your house you risk accidentally taking them when you’re sick and less inclined to stop and check their use-by date.”

Likewise, keeping unfinished courses of medicines is not a good idea.

“If you have been prescribed a medicine and you stopped taking it for whatever reason, unless the doctor has instructed otherwise, you should discard it,” Dr Stowasser said.

“If your symptoms return you should see the doctor or pharmacist again because it might be that the medicine wasn’t the right one for you or your illness might be different. Never just restart a course of medicine without professional advice.”

“If you do have unwanted or expired medicines, return them to your pharmacy to be destroyed safely. Putting medicines down the sink or in your regular rubbish bin can harm the environment and risk animals, children and others getting into them in your bins,” she said.

Cleaning out your medicine cabinet also gives you the opportunity to better manage your medicines. Research by NPS found more than 70% of Australians who take medicines don’t keep a written list, and often people don’t know exactly what type or strength of medicine they are taking.

A medicines list allows you to record important details about all your medicines, like the active ingredient, what it’s for, what strength you take, how much you use and when you take it.

“Having this written down means you can share it with your doctor or pharmacist before you start a new medicine so they can check for any potential interactions. Carry it in your bag or wallet in case you ever need this information quickly – if you’re unexpectedly ill or admitted to hospital this information can save valuable time,” Dr Stowasser said.


  • Gather all the medicines in your house including creams, gels, eye drops, vitamins, prescription and non-prescription medicines.
  • Check the expiry dates on all the medicines.
  • Check which medicines you still need. If in doubt, ask your pharmacist or doctor.
  • Take any unwanted or expired medicines to your local pharmacy for disposal.
  • Make a list of your medicines using an NPS Medicines List – available at


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.