After a health malady, dispose of drugs properly. (Mehmet Dilsiz/Bigstock)

Within a one-week span, a 32-year-old truck driver who was a patient of neurologist Orly Avitzur, medical adviser to Consumer Reports, had requested that his prescription for sumatriptan be faxed to three pharmacies: a Canadian company that the patient found online, his local drugstore and his health plan’s mail-order pharmacy. It was not the first time he had asked for duplicate prescriptions, and Avitzur began to suspect that he was stockpiling the migraine medication. ¶ People might believe that it’s smart to have drugs on hand in case of a relapse. But hoarding medication can be hazardous. To avoid trouble, follow this advice:

Don’t take expired medication. The drugs can be risky and harmful to your health. Over time, they can decompose, change chemical composition and lose potency. The bathroom medicine cabinet may be one of the worst places to store medication, since humidity can accelerate decomposition. Inspect your pills; if they have an unusual odor, are stuck together or are oddly shaped, they might be past their prime.

Be aware of recalled drugs. There were 1,616 drug products recalled in the year that ended Sept. 30, 2011, because they were either defective or potentially harmful products; that total was almost double the 868 drug products recalled in the prior 12 months. And from Oct. 1, 2011, to March 31, 2012, there were 1,194 such recalls. If you keep a stash of old drugs, you might not be aware that one has been removed from the market and you risk taking a drug that’s no longer safe.

Complete your treatment. A Polish study found that of 4,192 people not currently taking antibiotics, 54 percent admitted having leftover antibiotics. Side effects are one of the main reasons for antibiotic noncompliance, but if you keep the pills, you might forget why you initially stopped taking them. And self-medicating from an old reserve of drugs can help fuel a rise in antibiotic-resistant strains.

Speak to your doctor. If you are holding onto old medication to save money or, like the truck driver, because you are worried that you might have trouble getting it when you need it, talk with your doctor about less-expensive generic alternatives. And beware of online pharmacies offering cheaper deals for prescription drugs: According to a report last April from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, which accredits online drugstores, a review of 9,677 Web sites revealed that 97 percent were “rogue operations” whose products may not meet Food and Drug Administration standards.

Clean up your medicine cabinet. Follow disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information insert. Avoid flushing prescription drugs down the drain unless specifically instructed to do so. Ask your local trash-disposal service about programs that collect unused drugs at a central location so they can be properly disposed of. If you throw medicine out with household trash, remove it from its original container and mix it with used coffee grounds or cat litter.

Copyright 2012. Consumers Union of United States Inc.