Treat Your Medicines like Chocolate

Who would be crazy enough to leave a box of fine chocolates in a hot car? Everyone knows what heat does to chocolate. It disrupts the structural integrity of chocolate molecules, disorders their atomic relationships, and turns a tray of toothsome truffles into a lake of inedible goo. Yet many people think nothing of leaving their fragile medications on the car seat on a blazing summer afternoon – with the result that the medications lose some of their potency and become worthless against whatever they were prescribed for.

Extreme temperatures can alter chemical ingredients

Many of today’s medicines are what might be described as “sensitive plants.” Their delicately balanced combinations of chemical ingredients are fragile and easily upset by extremes of heat or cold. An article in the New York Times notes, “Extreme temperatures can have a big effect on both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Pharmaceutical manufacturers recommend most of their products be stored at a controlled room temperature of 68 to 77 degrees .” Among the medications it cites as being vulnerable are insulin and anticoagulants – both of which are taken by many heart patients.

Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Curtis Rimmerman, MD, heartily concurs with the article’s message. “This is a crucial message for anyone taking prescription or over the counter medication,” he says. “Environmental impact on medications, such as UV radiation, humidity and extremes of temperature can reduce the effectiveness and alter the chemical composition with potential serious health implications.”

Dr. Rimmerman points out that the danger extends beyond the chemical makeup of pills, to the exterior covering, or “shell.”

“Many medications are prepared in a sustained or extended release formulation. Should the outer covering of the medication be disrupted, this may impair the timeline for medication absorption and release,” he says.

Take special care of your medications

“Medications can also lose their potency with age or environmental exposure,” says Dr. Rimmerman.  “The danger here is both the patient and the treating physician believes effective treatment is being delivered when in fact that is not true. The bottom line is to treat your medication as a serious personal responsibility — take the right dosage at the right time within the manufacturer’s expiration period — kept in a safe, cool, dry location with limited sun exposure.”

In other words, store you medications with at least as much care as you would a box of fine chocolates — and at a similar temperature.