Anna Dhody of the Mutter Museum has graciously responded to our inquiry concerning how to store medicine vials with contents.
Here is her recommendation:
In terms of keeping the contents, that has to be a decision made by the Collections team based on their individual Collections Policy. In our case, we value the contents as well as the bottle/label so we do what we can to preserve the actual pharmaceutical. However, their institution may not place the value of the object on the contents, but rather, the bottle/label.
If her museum is part of a larger institution/organization that has laboratory facilities, I would recommend they get in touch with someone there who can review the contents and make sure they are stable and safe for storage. If they are in a larger facility, they may have an OSHA rep to call upon. We do not have that sort of infrastructure here, but if we did I would utilize it. They may also need to think about liability, staff safety, and other issues and overall look at the cost/benefit of retaining the material.
One last thing that is pertinent to their safe handling: “were any odors/vapors being given off?” If so, you may want to consider reaching out to your local Public Health organization, OSHA and/or your local Pharmaceutical Disposal organization. Also, the following Conserve-O-Gram might be helpful: https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/02-10.pdf
Please let us know if this helps and keep us posted on any developments!