Health & Wellbeing


Safe storage of medicines

Many of the medicines we take have a label advising that they must be stored below a certain temperature.

The reason this is highlighted on the label is because some medicines lose their effectiveness when stored above this minimum temperature, resulting in lost or at least diminished effectiveness. Some even may change form and become difficult to use.

For instance, gelatine capsules may soften, ointments and creams may become runny, and suppositories may melt.

If you are in an area of regular and prolonged high temperatures your medicines should be stored in the coolest, safest place available.

For patients suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease, taking damaged medicine has the potential to result in serious consequences so it is not worth taking a risk so proper storage in a cool place is essential.

Medicines also are required to have an expiry date printed on the label and while this does not mean that after this date the medicine is suddenly useless or dangerous, it does indicate that after the “expiry date” the quality and effectiveness of the medicine cannot be guaranteed.

A slight reduction in the efficiency of pain relievers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol should not present a major problem, but compromised doses of medicines for conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, high blood pressure or anti-coagulant therapy could present dangers.

In addition, many medicines, including some commonly used analgesics, produce unpleasant or toxic products when they degrade. For instance, aspirin breaks down to acetic acid and salicylic acid which can upset the stomachs of people taking them.

Blister or foil-packed products are more likely to maintain their integrity than tablets or capsules packed loosely in a bottle and stored in below-optimum conditions for a short time; and large pack sizes of products which are used only occasionally often result in being an uneconomical purchase.

National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, George Tambassis says if you think your medicine may have been exposed to higher-than-recommended temperatures or may be out of date, speak to your community pharmacist.

“It is also advisable to check with your pharmacist about storing your medicine in the fridge as most medicines should not be stored at these temperatures. An exception to never storing medicines in the fridge is some liquid medicines and injection vials but only if the label says so,” he said.

“The fridge means the main compartment, not the freezer and if your medicines accidentally freeze, they are almost certainly unstable and therefore should not be used. Once again, check with your community pharmacist.

“Most bathrooms have a medicine cabinet and so the natural tendency is to store medicines in the bathroom but this is actually one of the worst places to keep them.

“Medicines should be stored in a cool, dry place and not a bathroom where the heat and moisture from the shower, bath, and sink may damage them with the result they may become less effective, or they may even go bad before the expiration date.”

Always check the label and the Consumer Medicine Information (CMI) leaflet for storage instructions, and talk to your pharmacist if you have any questions.

In general, it is important to try to store medicines away from heat, moisture and sunlight. Most medicines should be stored below 25°C and they should never be left in warm places such as in front of a window where the temperature can reach high levels.

People living in the tropics should store their medicines in a part of the house that is cool and dry; for example in an airtight container in the linen cupboard. They should be checked regularly to see that they remain dry, especially during the wet season.

An added challenge is storing medicines while travelling in hot weather and one of the most important things to remember is if you are driving never to store them in the glove box or on the dashboard.

And if you have to take your medicines while out and about, take with you only what you need for the day, and leave the remainder at home.