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Prescription for Safety

December 17, 2013
If you’re like most people, you keep a variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications in your home for everything from headaches to heartburn. But did you know that these medications lose their effectiveness past their given expiration date and can also lose potency if they are improperly stored? Here are some important facts to keep in mind to ensure that your medication remains as safe and effective as possible.

Expiration dates represent the date at which the manufacturer’s guarantee of a drug’s safety expires. If you take a drug past its expiration date, there is no way to be certain that the medicine will work as intended. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all medication to have clear labeling of the expiration date. For prescription drugs, look for the term “EXP” followed by the date printed on the label. Over-the-counter medications have the date stamped on the lid or packaging. Once a medication is expired, the FDA recommends specific instructions for disposing of it properly. For more information about properly discarding unwanted drugs, visit the FDA website here.

Prior to the expiration date, there are several factors to consider for storing your medication. A popular place to store medications is in a bathroom medicine cabinet, but experts at the National Institute of Health (NIH) indicate that it is not an ideal location. The humidity, heat and moisture in a bathroom can decrease a drug’s effectiveness by causing changes in chemical compositions, especially for tablets and capsules (as opposed to liquids). The NIH used aspirin as an example of what can happen as a result of improperly storing aspirin. When kept in a humid environment, aspirin tablets break down into acetic and salicylic acid, which can irritate the stomach.

The NIH recommends storing medication in climate-controlled areas. Optimal locations include a hall linen closet shelf, a bedroom drawer or a kitchen cabinet, away from the stove. If you have children, always keep medications in secure containers and out of reach. When traveling, keep your medication with you in a carry-on bag if you are flying to ensure it is in a climate-controlled environment. Never leave medication of any sort in a car, as heat can reduce effectiveness.

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