Help your medications help you by always keeping them at safe temperatures and in safe places. In a recent New York Times article, Walecia Konrad outlined what could happen if medications are stored improperly and at temperatures that are too hot or too cold. Did you know that certain antibiotics that decay due to being stored at an improper temperature can cause stomach and kidney damage? Diagnostic test strips, such as ones used to test blood sugar levels or ovulation or pregnancy, are very sensitive to humidity, which can cause moisture to stick to the strips and possibly give a false test result. Birth control pills and thyroid medications, which contain hormones, can also be damaged and lose potency in the heat. Insulin and other suspended medications can become less effective if they freeze. On a less severe note, hydrocortisone cream can separate and lose its potency, while temperature-damaged aspirin can cause stomach upset. Below, check out tips on how to keep your medicine safe–which will help keep you safe, too.
Keeping medicine safe to use
- Mind the temperature. Most pharmaceutical manufacturers recommend that the majority of their medications are stored at a controlled room temperature between 68 to 77 degrees. In general, storing them anywhere from 58 to 86 degrees is often still OK. Anything beyond that range can cause medications to lose their effectiveness or even cause health problems. Always read the medication’s packaging so that you can find out at what temperature your specific medication should be stored.
- Make the pharmacy your last stop of the day. If you’re out running errands, pick up your medications last. This way, they won’t be sitting in a really hot or really cold car while you’re running other errands in other stores.
- Medicine cabinet, schmedicine cabinet. Medicine cabinets located in bathrooms can be affected by heat and humidity, which can in turn mess up your medications. Store other medical necessities in your medicine cabinet, such as bandages, gauze, tweezers, cotton balls, scissors–these items won’t be affected by the heat. Choose a cool, dry place to store your medicines, such as on a shelf in a linen closet, a dresser drawer in the bedroom, or a kitchen cabinet that isn’t near the stove.
Once you’ve found your cool, dry space to store medicine…
- Consider a lock. You will want to keep children and animals away from where you store your medicine. Additionally, if you’ve been prescribed a controlled substance (for instance, oxycodone), it’s a good idea to lock it up, as it is illegal for anyone else to use a controlled substance that’s been prescribed for you. Having controlled substances in a locked storage area can prevent a thief from taking these medicines in the event of a break-in at your home.
- Keep ’em separated. Keep your medicines in a designated area of the storage space, separate from the medicines for your spouse, children, or other family members.
- Don’t mess with the meds. Don’t mix different medicines in the same bottle–this increases the likelihood of taking the wrong pill at the wrong time.
- De-cotton it. When you get a medication that has cotton in the top of the bottle, remove the cotton–it can absorb moisture, therefore affecting the medicine that’s inside.
- Keep leaflets and other medication information handy. Don’t throw out the leaflets that come with your prescription medications; they have important information about your prescription, so keep them where you store your medicines. Consider storing bottles of over-the-counter medications in their original boxes, which often contain vital information such as dosage instructions and drug interactions.
Travel safely with medications
- If traveling by car… If you need to store emergency medications like an Epi-Pen or insulin, ask your pharmacist about a cool pack that they can recommend to help you keep these medications at the proper temperature.
- If traveling by plane… Always put medications in your carry-on baggage so that they stay with you at all times (you may need to allow extra time for check-in and security procedures). This will also help you ensure that they’re kept in an appropriate temperature. If the medications are in your checked baggage, they may not be kept at the right temperature, as baggage holding areas can be extremely cold or extremely hot.
Make sure your meds are still usable–if not, dispose of them properly
- Check expiration dates. Periodically go through your medications to make sure none of them have expired (or look dried out or discolored). If they have expired, remove them from your medicine storage area.
- Dispose of expired medicine responsibly. Mix expired prescription drugs with something undesirable, like kitty litter or used coffee grounds, and then seal them in containers before throwing them away; this will help deter anyone who may find them and be tempted to use them.
- Don’t flush ’em. Don’t flush expired medicine down the toilet (unless the leaflet that came along with your prescription specifically says you can), as this could cause the medicine to get into the water supply.
- Need to dispose of needles? Different areas have different preferred methods of needle disposal. Call your local municipality or local hospital to find out how they prefer you dispose of needles and sharps.
- Check your community calendar. Some towns have community pharmaceutical take-back programs or community solid waste programs–these can be good ways to safely get rid of unused or expired medications.
If you have questions about properly storing, transporting, or disposing of medications, it’s a good idea to call or visit your doctor and/or your local pharmacy and speak to the pharmacist for more suggestions and advice. If you have an advocacy service or Nurse Line available to you—check with your employer to see if they offer Health Advocate’s services, which features Personal Health Advocates as well as a Nurse Line—they may also be able to give you some advice on proper storage and disposal methods for medications. They may even be able to help you conference call with your pharmacist to ensure that you’re taking the right actions with your medications.