Cohen Medical Associates is a family medical center and research center located in Delray Beach, FL.
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How to Store and Use Medications Safely

Prescription medications can save lives, as well as relieve acute and chronic ailments, but improper storage can affect the potency or effectiveness of many medications and supplements. In addition, heat can have an effect, not only on the drugs themselves but also on how they work in the body. And finally, drugs left where little hands and mouths can find them can lead to tragic consequences.

Our family practice doctors in Delray Beach want to offer you some tips on safe storage and use for all your medications.


Store away from heat

Most experts recommend storing medications and herbal or vitamin supplements away from heat and moisture which can change the composition of a drug.

This means that, despite the convenience, the kitchen and bathroom are not the best place to store them. If you must keep them in the kitchen, do so as far away as possible from the sink, oven, dishwasher, or other humidity or heat sources. Many prescription bottles are not airtight, and even those that are will admit humidity every time you remove the cap.

Ideally, they should be kept in a bedroom drawer unless the package insert directs otherwise. Many medications are also sensitive to light, which can affect potency. These are stored in dark brown or green containers. Therefore, it’s best to keep them in their original bottles. This will also avoid the chance of mixing them up.

If you opt to put them in a pill organizer, however, keep the original containers so you have the dosing information, information on refills, expiration dates, and the pharmacy phone number, and prescription number readily available.

Some drugs should be stored in the refrigerator (check the package insert for guidance). If so, be sure the lid is on tightly so it won’t pick up moisture from the appliance’s interior. On the other hand, don’t put medications in the refrigerator unless the instructions call for it.

Some drugs, such as insulin and nitroglycerin, are definitely heat-sensitive, and shouldn’t be stored or carried in temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit. You can find specially made cases for insulin storage available at reasonable prices.

If you have any questions about storage requirements, ask your pharmacist when you pick up the prescription.


Take care in the heat

In addition to changing the composition and effectiveness of various drugs, in some cases, heat can also change certain drugs’ effects on the body. Medications that produce few or no side effects at other times of the year can become dangerous when taken during hot weather.

For example, some medications—both prescription and over the counter (OTC)—can lead to dehydration and/or hinder the body’s ability to regulate internal temperature which can possibly induce heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

These include:

  • beta blockers
  • ACE inhibitors
  • diuretics
  • SSRIs (e.g., Prozac, Paxil)
  • Benadryl
  • Spiriva
  • certain antipsychotics

If you’re taking any of these drugs, or similar ones, check with your pharmacist or review the information that came with the prescription or on the OTC container.

Meanwhile, given the severe and prolonged heatwaves we’ve been experiencing lately, if you’re on any type of medication, take care when outdoors or especially when exercising or working in the heat. Drink plenty of fluids and stay in the shade as much as possible.

If you have any questions about the safety of your medications, feel free to check with us.


Safe storage guidelines

First, any medications that have an odd odor, or have changed texture or color, should not be used, even if they haven’t expired.

Second, for the safety of children and pets, all medications should be kept in a cabinet or drawer with a child-proof latch, or in the original containers if they have a child-proof cap. This goes for OTC drugs, vitamins, and herbal supplements, as well.

If you have even the slightest suspicion that your child may have gotten into your medication or supplements, call the poison control center at (800) 222-1222 immediately. The ASPCA’s animal poison control hotline number is (888) 426-4435.

Post these numbers in a prominent place in your home, and program them into your phone.

Finally, please dispose of your medications safely. Do not flush them down the toilet or sink where they will get into the general water supply. Many pharmacies and local jurisdictions have drug take-back programs which allow you to return unused or expired medications no questions aske, or place them in the trash.

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