How to Properly Store Medication 

Use these smart storage tips to keeps drugs safe and effective.

You rely on your arthritis medications to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and prevent further joint damage. But if medications aren’t stored properly they may not work as promised. Exposure to light, humidity, and extreme temperatures can break down both prescription and over-the-counter drugs, making them less effective and – in rare cases – even toxic. It’s important to understand how to store your medications safely while also making sure they’re readily available.  

General Temperature Control 

For most oral medications, manufacturers guarantee efficacy when medicine is stored at 68 to 77 degrees, but 58 to 86 degrees is usually fine, says Philip Chan, a pharmacist at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Pharmacy. Outside that range, medications can start to degrade. Even glucose meters and diagnostic testing strips are sensitive to heat, cold and moisture, just as medications are.  

Biologics, unopened insulin and a number of other injectables need refrigeration. Most oral medications, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or nabumetone (Ralafen), are fine at room temperature but are sensitive to light and moisture. 

Medication Storage Suggestions 

Avoid bathroom cabinets.  Bathrooms aren’t a great place to store medications because of high heat and humidity. A better choice is a kitchen counter or cabinet away from children's reach, sunlight and heat sources. Another option is a drawer in a bedroom dresser, provided it's used every day so pills aren't forgotten.  

Keep medications out of the car. One of the biggest mistakes people make is leaving medications in a parked car, which can become scorching or frigid in a matter of minutes. If you have a prescription to pick up, make sure the drugstore is the last stop of the day. 

Practice safe shipping. In summer, the interior of a mailbox can reach more than 130 degrees; in winter, it's an industrial-strength freezer. If you mail order drugs, choose overnight shipping, and if possible, have them sent to your office. 

Carry them with you. When traveling, always put medications in your carry-on luggage. Baggage can get lost, and cargo holds on airplanes aren't temperature controlled; meaning checked bags can sizzle or freeze on the tarmac. Many manufacturers provide no-cost travel packs for refrigerated medicines. 

When in doubt, contact your pharmacist. Sometimes it's obvious when a pill is altered – the color, texture, or shape may have changed – but not always. If you have any doubts about a medication, contact your pharmacist. As for refrigerated medicine left out for an extended period, contact the manufacturer or discard it and get a new supply. 

Overall, the challenge is balancing safe storage with making it easy to find and take your medication as prescribed. If you are not certain how a medication should be stored, read the information that comes with your prescription or speak with your pharmacist.   

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