How to Properly Store Your Meds

These smart storage tips keep 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. Yet storing medications safely can be challenging, especially since many drugs have unique requirements that may not mesh easily with the demands of everyday life.

"Storage conditions for drugs vary," says Philip Chan, a pharmacist at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Pharmacy. Biologics, unopened insulin and a number of other injectables need refrigeration, he says. Most oral medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or nabumetone (Ralafen), are fine at room temperature but are sensitive to light and moisture.

Manufacturers guarantee efficacy when medicine is stored at 68 to 77 degrees, but 58 to 86 degrees is usually fine, Chan says. Outside that range, medications can start to degrade. Even glucose meters and diagnostic testing strips are as sensitive to heat, cold, and moisture as medications are. "If these devices are exposed to extreme temperatures, you're not going to get an accurate reading," Chan says.

If you are not certain how a medication should be stored, read the information that comes with your prescription or speak with your pharmacist. Chan offers these general safe-storage suggestions:

Avoid bathroom cabinets.  "The bathroom isn't a great place to store medications because of the high heat and humidity," he says. A better choice is a kitchen counter or cabinet away from children's reach, sunlight, and heat sources, such as the stove and refrigerator. Another option is a drawer in a bedroom bureau, provided it's used every day so pills aren't forgotten. 

Keep medications out of the car. Chan points out that 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, he advises.

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 baggage holds on airplanes aren't temperature controlled; checked bags can sizzle or freeze on the tarmac. Many manufacturers provide no-cost travel packs for refrigerated medicines.

If the worst happens
Sometimes it's obvious when a pill is altered – the color, texture, or shape has 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.

In the long run, Chan says, the challenge is balancing safe storage with ease of use. "A medication is no help if people can't find it or forget to take it," he says.