Safe and Sound: Taking Good Care of Your Meds

From what we can gather from the tech news lately, the next best thing involves ‘health texting‘.  We already know all about videoconferencing and email and telehealth.  Now we have to consider whether we want someone to send us a cheery ‘don’t 4get ur pills’ message.

I don’t know how to feel about this.  It’s cute, sort of, when appropriate.  Surely, however, no one should ever get a ‘you have colon cancer’ text.  And, frankly, those who most need reminding about their meds – preschoolers and the elderly, perhaps – are not much into texting or the technology that goes with it.  I guess time will tell.

But this does bring up another thought: storing and taking our medications in general.  All drugs and medications, whether prescription or OTC, need to be handled with care.  They are expensive, can be dangerous, and require certain living conditions to maintain their efficacy.

The medicine cabinet over the sink in the master bathroom is, most emphatically, not a good place for storing medications.  We all know this, but do it anyway.  The problem is the environment: warm and humid.  This particular semitropical setting really speeds up any drug’s breakdown, especially those in tablet or capsule form.  The quick-dissolve type of pills or capsules suffer mightily in a moist setting (and many medications for children are quick-dissolve).

Aspirin, too,  is surprisingly easy to damage.  When it breaks down into acetic acid and salicylic acid, nasty stomach irritation is all but guaranteed.  Antibiotics that have been compromised may cause kidney or stomach damage.  Birth control and other medications containing hormones are very sensitive to temperature fluctuations.  Insulin, seizure drugs and anticoagulants are rendered far less effective with improperly stored – and even small changes in these medications make a real difference in their viability.  It could even be life-threatening.  And diagnostic test strips (tracking ovulation, pregnancy, blood sugar levels and so on) are very sensitive to humidity.  Moisture on the strips could well dilute the testing liquid and give a false reading.

Okay, then.  Pharmaceuticals should be stored between 68 and 77 degrees, in a controlled (not too wet, not too dry) setting.  That’s the ideal. A range from 58 to 86 degrees is perfectly acceptable.  No medication should be subjected to temperatures above 86 degrees, so the trunk of the car is out.  Remember this when you travel.  And drugs should not be exposed to freezing temperatures, either.

So what do we do if we can’t use that handy ‘medicine cabinet’?  Cool and dry is the goal.  A locked file, closet or cabinet in the bedroom might work.  On a high shelf in a linen closet is a good idea, in a locked box if necessary.  If you store medicines in the kitchen, don’t do it  over the stove or sink or any appliances.

Here are some other medication storage tips:

  • Store drugs out of the reach of children.  This seems obvious, of course, but remember just how curious and resourceful children can be!  And even if there are no little ones in the house, remember visitors, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, neighbors.  Children will find pills (and swallow) left on a bedside table in a flash!
  • Keep all medicines in their original containers.  
  • Remove that cotton plug.  Do not leave the cotton packing in the bottle once you’ve opened it – it can wick in moisture.
  • Ask your pharmacist about any special storage instructions when you collect your prescriptions.  There are certain medications that require special handling – be sure you understand the directions.  Do not be too embarrassed to ask!
  • Check expiration dates whenever you take a drug.  Again, this may sound silly, but it really isn’t.  Replace any medication that is out of date.  In fact, even though it may be more convenient and even cost-effective to refill an Rx every three months, consider refilling one month at a time to make sure your drugs are still potent.
  • Never use any medication that has changed color, odor, texture or shape, even if it has not expired.  Discard drugs that stick together, are chipped or cracked or harder or softer than usual.  Dispose of them carefully, in a sealed bag mixed with inedible substances such as kitty litter or coffee grounds, for example.  Or check with your pharmacist about the best way to dispose of the damaged or expired drugs.
  • You can’t always tell if a medication has been damaged by just looking.  So this is where, once again, taking care with the storage of any drugs is important.  Cool and dry, under lock and key: between 58 and 86 degrees, no higher, no lower.
We’d be more than happy to text this on, if you like!

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