Safety first: Talk to patients about safe use, safe storage, and safe disposal of medications

One To One

October 2015 marks the National Council on Patient Information and Education’s (NCPIE) milestone 30th “Talk About Your Medicines” Month. NCPIE sponsors this event to keep the spotlight on the role that high-quality communication plays in promoting better medication use and better health outcomes.

“Our theme for this landmark occasion is ‘Safe use. Safe storage. Safe disposal,’” said Ray Bullman, executive vice president of NCPIE. “Our theme captures in three simple steps the core purposes of NCPIE’s mission, which is to promote the wise use of medicines through trusted communication for better health.”

Safe use

“Talk Before You Take” is an educational program developed this year by NCPIE with support from FDA to improve communication between pharmacists and other health care providers and patients. The program includes tools that support high-quality communication between patients and their providers so patients don’t walk out of a physician’s office or pharmacy wondering, “What were those medication instructions again?”

Pharmacists can download a free brochure with tips for discussing the benefits and potential risks of medications and the “Talk Before You Take” pocket guide at

Safe storage

Safe and appropriate medication use includes making sure that all medications, including prescription and OTC meds, are stored safely. 

NCPIE and APhA are partners in “Up and Away and Out of Sight,” a national educational program in partnership with CDC to remind families about the importance of safe medication storage. 

Pharmacists should remind parents and caregivers that all medications and vitamins should always be kept up and away and out of children’s reach and sight every time they are used. Medications should be stored in a safe location that is too high for young children to reach or see. 

Never leave medicine or vitamins out on a kitchen counter or at a sick child’s bedside, even if you have to give the medication again in a few hours. Always relock the safety cap on a medication bottle. 

Visit for more information about “Up and Away and Out of Sight.”

Safe disposal

Safe disposal of expired or unused medications is just as important as safe use and storage. Patients can visit DEA’s website at to learn about community-based drug take-back programs to locate an authorized collector in their area. Consumers may also call the DEA Office of Diversion Control’s Registration Call Center at 800-882-9539 to find an authorized collector in their community.

Some medications may be thrown out with the household garbage. Mix the medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds. Place the mixture in a container, and throw the container away in your household trash. Remember to scratch out all personal information on the prescription label to make it unreadable.

Some prescription medicines are harmful if taken accidentally by someone other than the patient. If a drug take-back program is not available, FDA recommends that patients flush the medications down the toilet. 

For more information about NCPIE’s “Talk About Your Medicines” Month, visit