Safety and first aid

Storing and disposing of medications

All medicines have the potential to be dangerous regardless of whether they are purchased over-the-counter (OTC) or obtained by prescription.

Medications for people and veterinary medicine (for animals) contain some of the strongest chemicals, as only a very small amount is needed to produce an effect.

Some medicines that are safe for adults, such as iron supplements, are highly poisonous to children. Liquid paracetamol is also a common cause of poisoning in children.

Some of these ‘safe’ products can also be dangerous to adults if taken in larger quantities than prescribed.

Older people often become more sensitive to medicines and should be careful to take only medicine that is prescribed for them, and only the correct amount.

Some older people tend to store medications and may have a variety of medicines at home that are potentially very dangerous to young children.

It is important to securely store any medications away from children.

How to use medicine safely

Follow the checklist below to make sure you are using medicines safely:

  • Read the label before taking your medicine – if your eyesight is failing, have someone read the label for you.
  • Follow all directions carefully – this includes those given to you by your doctor or pharmacist as well as those on the label of the container or packet.
  • Take only the recommended dose.
  • Complete the course of medication as advised by your doctor.
  • If you are taking OTC medication, make sure you understand the directions on the packet before you take it. If you do not fully understand, speak to your pharmacist.
  • Keep all medication in a secure place, out of reach of children – preferably in a lockable cabinet or drawer.
  • Take any unwanted medicines to your local pharmacy for disposal.
  • You should never:
    • give your medication to other people – particularly your prescription drugs.
    • use medication labelled for other people.
    • take medicine after its expiry date.

How do I dispose of my medicine?

You should take any medication that is expired, unused or unwanted to your local pharmacy where it will be safely disposed of.

Where to get help

  • Always dial triple zero (000) in a medical emergency.
  • Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 (24 hours a day) if you suspect poisoning.
  • See your doctor.
  • Visit a GP after hours.
  • Speak to your pharmacist.
  • Ring healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222.

Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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