Ask a pharmacist: What to know about your medications

by Kaiser Permanente |
Pharmacist holding a prescription bottle

Whether you’re trying to get rid of a headache or lower your cholesterol, you’ve probably taken medication at some point in your life. But are you storing your medicine correctly? Can you take expired prescriptions?

Kaiser Permanente pharmacist Ramona Stroe, PharmD, answers 6 common questions she receives from patients about medication use and safety. 

Is there a difference between generic and brand-name medications?

If your pharmacy recommends a generic drug, you can rest easy. According to Stroe, it’s just as effective as a brand-name option. All drug companies must submit their generic medications to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval.*

“Generic drugs undergo the same careful steps to be approved and qualified as brand-name medications,” Stroe says. “They have the same active ingredients, formulation, dosage, and strength.”

Where should you store your medication?

If you don’t need to refrigerate your medication, you’ll usually have to keep it in a cool, dry place. But different medications may have different storage needs. Always read the package or insert for specific directions about your prescription. If you have trouble finding them, Stroe says to call your pharmacy.

Don’t store your medicine in the bathroom

Bathrooms have a lot of moisture and experience extreme temperature changes. Both factors, Stroe says, are bad for medication. 

“When you shower, your bathroom goes from room temperature to high temperatures. You get steam and moisture that can damage or reduce the power of a product,” Stroe explains. “When you rely on a medication to have its full power, like a blood pressure or heart medication, storing it in the bathroom can have health consequences.”

Keep your medicine away from animals and children

Remember to choose a location that’s difficult for pets and children to reach. This can prevent them from ingesting harmful drugs by mistake.

Is it safe to get your medication through the mail?

If you’re using a safe online pharmacy, Stroe says, then it’s okay to order medications by mail.

“Kaiser Permanente mails medications with the proper storage and temperature taken into account,” she explains. “When we store medications that have more unique needs, like insulin or medications that have to be refrigerated, we take the proper precautions to package them safely.”

You can get tips for buying medicine online from the FDA. You can also search their site for state-licensed online pharmacies.

How should you manage taking more than one medication?

Stroe says the first thing you should do is ask your pharmacist for advice. They can help you manage multiple medications.

“Most pharmacists will take the time to work directly with patients when they come in and get their medications, especially if they’re taking something new and asking questions,” Stroe explains. “If someone is on a lot of medications with unique instructions about when to take them and what not to take with them, there are programs with our clinical teams that offer in-depth care.”

Buy a pill box or download an app

After you figure out a medication schedule, a pill box can help you keep track of any prescription pills. If you need more help, Stroe recommends a medication management app. You can download an app to your mobile device for easy tracking.

Can you take expired medication?

“After the expiration date, some products are not as effective as they were initially. Its chemistry starts to break down, and there’s no guarantee that the product is still working the way it was intended,” she explains. “Some expired medications go through such complex chemical change that they could make a person sick.”

How should you get rid of old or unwanted medication?

Look for disposal instructions on the medication packaging or insert. If you don’t have them, Stroe recommends contacting your pharmacist.

Don’t put your medication in the trash or down the drain

Throwing drugs in the trash could put them in the wrong hands and harm someone who shouldn’t be taking them. Pouring them down the drain can also be unsafe. 

“When you throw away or flush medication, the chemical compound ends up contaminating vital resources like soil and water, which can contaminate food,” says Stroe. “You want to safeguard these medications and get rid of them of them safely.”

Find a drug take-back location

If you’re still not sure what to do with your prescriptions, you can find an official drug take-back event or collection site near you. These places are government-approved and will safely destroy your unwanted medication.

Many Kaiser Permanente pharmacies have drug collection kiosks for dropping off old medications. And at some locations, members can get a pre-addressed mailer to return certain prescriptions by mail.

There’s a lot to remember about handling your medication. Bookmark this page as a reference, and remember that you can always call your pharmacist to answer questions about your medicine.

To learn more about prescription care at Kaiser Permanente, visit

*“Generic Drugs: Overview & Basics,”, accessed January 22, 2024.