When my children were growing up, we spent a lot of time in the doctor’s office, mainly for ear infections and other types of normal childhood illnesses. The kids didn’t mind it, though, because the doctor most often prescribed the ‘pink, bubblegum, always cold medicine.’
I often wondered why the liquid antibiotics needed refrigeration. I also heard someone say just the other day that they were told not to store their medication in the bathroom or in their kitchen on a shelf by the large, sunny window. The fact is, many medications are sensitive to light, humidity, or temperature and failure to store medications properly may result in loss of drug potency or effect. In some cases, the drug may degrade to a point that causes serious harm to the patient.
Here are a few specific examples:
- Freezing of certain insulins results in changes in the formulation and absorption by the body. Once the drug has been thawed and administered, the result is a drug that may demonstrate a different effect.
- Nitroglycerin is a product used for angina (i.e., chest pain). Nitroglycerin molecules adhere to plastics; therefore sublingual tablets must be stored in original glass containers under airtight conditions. Failure to maintain proper storage results in loss of drug effect.
- Overheating of fentanyl patches alters how the drug is released from the patch, resulting in a possible overdose.
- A warm, muggy environment can cause aspirin tablets to break down into acetic acid (vinegar) and salicylic acid, both of which can irritate the stomach.
Another aspect of storage requirements, and one that pertains mostly to the pharmacy environment, is how and where to store medications until the customers pick them up. A well-organized and clearly labeled storage system, such as numbering or alphabetizing in bins and/or boxes, can help keep a customer’s medications together and separate them from those of other customers.
Here are some questions you could ask to make sure your pharmacy is doing a good job in this area:
- Are the storage conditions appropriate for the medication (refrigerator, freezer, light exposure)?
- Are each patient’s medications adequately separated?
- Are storage areas kept neat and orderly?
Orderly storage decreases the chances that a customer will receive a prescription meant for someone else, and if the medications are stored properly within the pharmacy, you can rest assured that the customer is getting a drug that is safe and effective.