Heat Wave Survival Guide: 5 Tips to Avoid Medication Meltdown

JULY 07, 2010
Laura Enderle, Assistant Editor
The effects of the scorching heat that gripped the northeastern United States earlier this week may last well beyond the heat wave, especially for those taking prescription medications. Although most drug labels include storage temperature recommendations, many patients remain unaware of the potential damage extreme heat can inflict on their medicines.

With power failures and brownouts in several cities leaving many without air conditioning, counseling patients on proper medication storage is especially important. Pharmacists practicing in areas affected by a heat wave can help patients by offering these 5 reminders from the National Institutes of Health on medication storage at home:

1. Air conditioning is best.  Although electric fans provide temporary comfort, they can’t protect prescription medications from degrading when temperatures rise significantly above “controlled room temperature,” defined by the US Pharmacopeia as 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Don’t leave medicine in the car. Leaving medicine to bake on the seat of a hot car is a sure-fire way to destroy it. If medications must be taken out of the house, patients should take care to store them safely in a purse or backpack that can be carried around.

3. Protect OTC medicines. Heat and moisture cause aspirin tablets to break down into acetic acid and salicylic acid, which can cause stomach irritation. Other OTC products simply lose their potency when exposed to hot, humid environments. Even the cotton ball many OTC drugs are packaged with can be a threat, drawing moisture into the container and compromising the capsules or tablets inside.

4. Pack medications in a carry-on when traveling. When it comes to storing medications, the temperature-controlled environment of a passenger cabin is much safer than the luggage compartment in the belly of an airplane. Patients should pack drugs in a bag small enough fit in carry-on luggage.

5. When in doubt, ask a pharmacist. If medicines that have been exposed to high temperatures appear physically changed in any way, patients should consult a pharmacist to determine whether a new prescription is needed. Pills that are cracked, chipped, stuck together, or unusually hard or soft should not be taken; nor should pills that have changed color, consistency, or odor.



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