Storing Over the Counter Medications

By Tina Matiyow-Hoff, RN, CLNC, WCE

Stockpiling OTC (Over the Counter) medications is relatively easy, as they do not require a prescription, and you can purchase them at your local drug store or grocery store. You can also purchase ‘other’ medicines at the local veterinary supply shop, i.e. antibiotics, lidocaine.

When purchasing these products, make sure and get the bottles with the farthest out expiration date. They should be stored in a cool, dry and low humidity area. They should remain closed until they are needed.

The expiration date: “To start with, just what is a drug expiration date? In short, the date (required since 1979) does not indicate when a drug goes bad, but rather a date through which the drug is guaranteed to be good. Compare this to what you might find on a can of beans: the “best if used by” date. How are these dates determined? In two ways.

The first is by real-time testing. Medications are stored under manufacturer-recommended conditions (which does not mean in your hot, humid bathroom over the toilet). At given intervals the medications are tested for appearance, drug content, and stability. Nowhere could I find that they are tested for safety specifically, but if the drug itself is present in acceptable amounts, it seems reasonable to conclude it is still safe.

Secondly, drugs are tested under high-temperature stress conditions to simulate longer time periods. Logically, if a drug is only two years old, five years of stability testing is unlikely to have been performed. However, if a medication remains stable for a specified time period under adverse conditions, one may presume it likely stable and therefore safe for much longer periods.

Expiration dates are only found on the original packaging and apply to unopened meds that have been stored as directed. This is in contrast to the date on your actual prescription bottle, a “do not use beyond” date. Pharmacists commonly purchase pills in bottles of 1,000 then dispense them into smaller containers, generally with a shorter expiration date. The latest this will be is a year beyond the original prescription date. Although the original bottle may have a date 2-3 years in the future, your own bottle will be dated for 1 year or less from purchase, due to uncertainty about actual storage conditions and patient use.” (1)

With stored medicines, in general, there is a slight gradual loss of potency, not spoilage; especially if care is taken to store them correctly. With this in mind then, the concern is not safety, but rather, effectiveness. According to The Medical Letter, a respected professional newsletter, addressed the topic of expired medications in both 1996 and 2002. “Many drugs stored under reasonable conditions retain 90% of their potency for at least 5 years after the expiration date on the label, and sometimes much longer,” per The Medical Letter. (2) In summary, most tablets and capsules are very likely safe to use, and quite likely effective, although perhaps slightly less than when new, to use for several years beyond their listed expiration date. It seems reasonable to extrapolate data from drugs included in the Shelf Life Extension Program, and “conclude that most tablets and capsules would be both safe and effective for several years past their expiration date, when stored in the original packaging at the recommended temperatures.” (1,3) Remember to use common sense with any drug, and know what you are using it for and what the potential side effects and adverse reactions may be.

Side effects, medically speaking, are a peripheral or secondary effect from a drug that does not relate to the expected outcome, and can be undesirable, yet are acceptable conditions that may happen. For instance, nausea from an antibiotic may be acceptable, and could it self be treated. Whereas, an adverse reaction, a harmful and unintended effect, i.e. an anaphylactic reaction, which would not acceptable.

So what should you buy and have on hand? Again, whatever you do decide to purchase and store long term, know the specific reasons for having it, and know how and when to use it.

Below is a list that certainly is not all inclusive, and should be tailored to you and your family’s needs:

Ibuprofen –pain and swelling Tylenol –pain Benadryl – good for hives, itching, and drainage due to a respiratory infection, also helps with insomnia Imodium- diarrhea Sudafed –congestion Clotrimazole (Lotrimin) – anti-fungal, yeast infection, athlete’s foot, jock itch, impetigo Bacitracin (Neosporin) – topical infection Hydrocortisone cream – 1% - superficial topical skin allergy, eczema, poison oak/ivy, diaper rash, 2 – 2.5% hemorrhoid cream, a stronger version Zantac – irritated/upset stomach, heartburn, ulcers, acid-reducing Meclizine (Dramamine) – nausea, vomiting, motion sickness, vertigo-like dizziness Goldban powder – bed sores Nu-skin – liquid bandage Anbesol – tooth ache, teething babies, wisdom teeth Dent-a-temp – temporary dental filling product

There are many excellent resources that can be found in books and online regarding this topic. Below is a list of various sources that I found to be excellent and informative. Dr. Cindy Koelker’s websites,, and, are excellent resources on medical preparations of all kinds!

Resources Where There is No Dentist – Murray Dickson. This volume is a classic of expedient dentistry, well-regarded by medical preppers for many years. Written for the lay person in clear, straight-forward language. Where There is No Doctor: A Village Healthcare Handbook – Jane Maxwell. This highly-respected work is the medical counterpart to the above volume. A classic of its own. 101 Ways to Save Money on Healthcare – Cynthia J. Koelker, M.D. This handy book is filled with tips on how to make the most of your healthcare dollar, and many of its suggestions apply equally well to survival medicine. How to Get Your Doctor to Help You Stockpile Medicine, by Cynthia J. Koelker, MD Article on

The Survival Nurse – Ragnar Benson. Setting up and running an emergency nursing station under adverse conditions. Provides may other thought provoking considerations.

Citations/sources Dr. Cindy Koelker,, (The Medical Letter, Vol. 44, Issue 1142, October 28, 2002.) A summary of the SLEP data is available in The Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Vol. 95, No. 7, July 2006.



0 #1 Diane 2011-07-31 00:25
I love Anita Marriott's suggestion in the July 2011 newsletter about essential oils instead of medication for emergency storage. They indefinite shelf life and can be adapted to any ailment. See her website at doterramasters. com

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