The items should be locked up until your children are of school age and you know they can be trusted, Becker says.
Even if there are no children in your household, don't keep medicines on your bedside table, says Dave Cowden, a pharmacist for CVS in Hagerstown.
"You shouldn't be taking medications when you're sleepy," Cowden says.
That advice is especially important for senior citizens, says Cowden, who volunteers with Washington County Health Department's Geriatric Evaluation Services.
In the spring and fall, the service presents a program at senior citizen nutrition sites called "Safe Taking of Pills."
Part of the program includes telling senior citizens how to store their medications properly, says Sara Ann Godwin, a gerontological nurse with the service.
Persons who receive their prescriptions in bottles without childproof caps should move the products out of reach of children who come to visit, Cowden says.
"Prescription medications, and all medications, need to be treated with more respect than they are," Cowden says.
Cowden recommends buying over-the-counter medicines as the need arises.
He says households without children just need an antiseptic such as hydrogen peroxide, an antiseptic ointment for cuts and a pain reliever for headaches.
Those in households with children should keep four or five things on hand, Becker says. He recommends stocking the following items, which can be purchased for about $15:
an antipyretic to reduce fever
Most also are pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, which both are available in varying strengths.
These come in different forms, including drops for infants, liquid for toddlers and chewable tablets for young children.
syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting
This only should be used if the child has swallowed pills, solid or liquid items that are not volatile.
Do not induce vomiting if cleaning fluids, kerosene or a caustic substance such as lye are ingested.
Contact your doctor and a poison control center.
an antihistamine for itching, coughs and colds
Use the form best suited to the age of your child, whether it be drops, liquid or chewable.
The most common one goes by the generic name of diphenhydramine. It can be used in a pinch to help an uncomfortable child get to sleep, Becker says.
an antibiotic ointment for cuts and scrapes
Its generic name is triple antibiotic ointment.
laxatives or suppositories for constipation
Becker says this is an optional item, as you can purchase it the next day if needed.
Don't worry about keeping a large supply of medications on hand, he says.
"The things that can get you through in a pinch are available at stores that are open all night," Becker says.