Do you know how and where you should safely store your medicines at home?

Expiry date printed on your medicine has meaning only if the medicines are stored properly. This knowledge is important because drugs can actually expire way before the printed expiry date if stored incorrectly. This is called accelerated degradation. Expiry date or self-life, refers to the time period within which the medicine is expected to have full potency and safe to use but beyond this date the manufacturer cannot guarantee full potency and safety of the medicine and therefore cannot be held liable for any harm caused by its use.Therefore, expiry date is an important regulatory requirement aimed at protecting both the consumer and the manufacturer.

Storing your medicines properly can help to ensure they work as they should as well as prevent accidental poisoning. You probably know that you should be keeping medicines away or out of sight and reach of children. But now ask yourself, are my medicines stored properly? All medicines have their storage instructions written on the labels such as recommended storage temperature. There are so many factors that can damage medicines, and some include exposure to light, heat, moisture and air. Medicines not properly stored can lose potency as the chemical composition may change making the medicine weaker, ineffective or even harmful. It is therefore important to keep in mind that your choice of medicine storage area can affect its potency and safety.

Most of medicines may be stored at room temperature (below 30oC), in a cool dry place. Examples include your dresser drawers, a closet, a storage box, and a shelf. It’s best to avoid putting medicines in the bathroom and kitchen, since the heat and moisture from your shower, bath, stove, hot appliances, and sinks may damage your medicine. Always remember to store your medicines out of sight and reach of children and pets, to prevent accidental ingestion. Keep all medicines in the original container in which they were dispensed and follow the recommended storage instructions. Medicines should be user specific and ‘sharing’ of medicines including antibiotics, creams and ointments is highly discouraged. It may also be recommended to buy a family first aid box or medicine box and a local chemist can recommend a suitable type according to your needs.

And contrary to popular belief, storing medication in a fridge does not necessarily extend its shelf life, as the humidity in the fridge may sometimes be detrimental to the stability of the medication. Only keep cool medicine(s) (usually recommended to be kept between 2 to 8oC) are advised to be stored in the refrigerator according to the manufacture’s recommendation. But remember not to freeze them as this is also detrimental.

When opened?

What’s most important to know is that once medication has been opened, it can easily become contaminated. The moment a tablet/capsule is taken out of its original container, it has to be used quickly or the medicines can deteriorate quickly and may become contaminated with germs rendering the expiry date null and void.

Once medication leaves its original container, and you’re not 100% sure what it is — get rid of it quickly. The stability of medication can’t be guaranteed once the bottle or container has been opened.

Tips for Travelers

  • If you are traveling, always make sure you store your medicines in the original labelled container
  • For prescription drugs, ensure to carry a copy of the prescription to avoid problems at the border as well as to facilitate medicine identification in case of emergency.
  • Do not combine medicines into a single container to save space. Always carry your medicines in the carry-on luggage and consider placing silica packs in medicines if extended travel is planned in hot or humid environments.
  • Any medicine that requires refrigeration must be kept cool for the duration of travel (to maintain the cold chain). This can be done using a cooler box. Once the destination is reached, the medicine should be refrigerated.
  • Do not keep medicines in the glove compartment of your car. Medicines are delicate, temperature and humidity fluctuations there can affect the potency.

Being diligent about storing your medicines safely and appropriately will help ensure you get the most out of your medicine, protect your health and those around you.

Antibiotics should never, under any circumstance, be stored for future use. These should only be taken as prescribed for that specific period of time.

You should do an inventory of your medicines every six months or at least once a year.

Always check the expiry date before using any medicine.

DO NOT share medicines.

Do not use damaged and/or adulterated medicine(s)

Always check that there is no physical change to your medicine before use; ensure that there is no colour change, drying, crumbling, or any other change that may suggest that the medicine is past its prime. If you notice any changes, please do not take the medicines and visit your local Pharmacist or Doctor for professional advice.

Getting rid of medicines

Unlike most products, medicine disposal should be treated with care. The best practice is to take it to the local pharmacy for environmentally-friendly safe disposal.

It’s important to get rid of unused medicine(s) safely and promptly.

Throwing unused medicine(s) away in the garbage bin or flushing it down the toilet can be dangerous, as landfill sites and water supplies become contaminated with discarded medicines.

Check the expiration date on your medicine(s) regularly. Separate medicine(s) that are out of date.

DO NOT keep old, left over or unused medicine around.

Compiled by Pharmacists Billy Chabalenge and Saini Kennedy L

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