Did you know that exposure to extreme temperatures could render your medications ineffective—even dangerous?
Safely storing drugs during the summer and winter months can be a challenge. Even if you are able to decipher the tiny script that details the storage instructions for a particular prescription, there is a host of complicating factors that can crop up.
What happens if you accidentally leave a prescription in the car all day? What should you do if the power goes out and you can’t refrigerate a medication that says, ‘keep refrigerated?’
Papatya Tankut, vice president of professional pharmacy services for CVS pharmacy, answers some of the common questions surrounding the proper storage of prescription medications:
Do prescription medications need to be kept at certain temperatures?
According to Tankut, the ideal temperature for most medications is room temperature—anywhere between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. However, some common medications have specific storage instructions that you should be aware of:
- Inhaled medications: Brovana, Foradil
- Injectable drugs for diabetes: Insulin, Byetta, Victoza, Symlin
- Eye drops: Azacite, Phospholine Iodide, Travatan and Travatan Z, Xalatan
- Other meds: Copaxone, Forteo, Fortical (calcitonin Nasal spray), Octreotide
You can double-check the particular directions for these and other prescriptions you might be taking on the National Institutes of Health’s drug information website.
What happens if my medications get too hot or too cold?
Prescriptions that are subjected to extremely hot or extremely cold temperatures can lose their effectiveness prior to their expiration date, Tankut says. That’s why she suggests not storing meds where they might be exposed to temperatures that fall outside of the suggested range. This means avoiding leaving medications (both prescription and over the counter) in the car, on a windowsill, in a garage or outside storage shed, or (if you’re traveling) inside checked baggage.
What can I do to protect my medications if the power goes out?
In the case of certain prescriptions—such as eye drops and insulin—refrigeration is the suggested method of storage. But, depending on where you live, a summer storm or winter white-out can quickly knock out the power to the fridge. Should this happen, Tankut suggests trying to move the meds to a working refrigerator. If this isn’t possible, she says to avoid opening the refrigerator door unless absolutely necessary. This will help keep the prescriptions cool for as long as possible. If the power goes out for more than a few hours, you should discard any medications that need to be refrigerated. The only exception to this rule, according to Tankut, would be if you need a particular prescription in order to live (ex. insulin for a person who has diabetes). In these instances, she says it’s better to use the medication that you have until a fresh supply becomes available. Replace any potentially compromised medications with a new prescription as soon as you possibly can.
How can I tell if my prescriptions have been damaged by the temperature?
A medication may or may not show outward physical signs of temperature damage. Tankut says it’s important to be on the lookout for meds that: smell funny, are discolored, are unusually hard or soft to the touch, pills that are cracked, chipped, or stuck together, and creams that show indications of separation. However, depending on the prescription and how long it was exposed to hot or cold temperatures, it may not look any different. In these cases, the only indication that you may have that a medication has been compromised is if your symptoms start re-appearing.
What should I do if I think my medications have been damaged by the temperature?
Tankut urges individuals to contact their pharmacist if they suspect their medications have been subjected to extreme temperatures. The pharmacist will be able to tell you whether the medication needs to be thrown out, or not. They can also help you order a replacement prescription.
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