How Hot Temperatures Can Affect Medication

heat and medications
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Heat waves, lack of air conditioning, mail-order pharmacies, and summer power outages can be dangerous to your prescription medications and your health.

If you take any prescription drug, you need to be aware that shipping or storage at high temperatures can quickly degrade the potency and stability of many of your medications.

It's recommended that most drugs be stored at what's known as "controlled room temperature." That's about 77 degrees Fahrenheit on average. Some permit what are known as "controlled excursions"—short periods to accommodate shipping, for example—at temperatures up to 86 F for shorter periods.

For example, here are the storage recommendations for several of the nation's most-prescribed drugs: 

  • Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium): Store at controlled room temperature.
  • Toprol (metoprolol succinate): Store at controlled room temperature. Excursions permitted to 59 F to 86 F (15 C to 30 C).
  • Norvasc (amlodipine besylate): Store bottles at controlled room temperature.
  • Synthroid (levothyroxine): Store at controlled room temperature; excursions permitted to 59 F to 86 F (15 C to 30 C)

Summer heat can expose your medications to dangerously high temperatures that can potentially degrade your drugs,  often, without your knowledge. For example:

  • Your medication is stored in your home, and you are in an area of 90-degree plus heat and you do not have air conditioning.
  • Your medication traveled in an airline's luggage compartment during hot weather (where it could sit on the tarmac, and in luggage handling areas that are not air-conditioned.
  • Your medication was sitting in a hot automobile for an extended period.
  • You have experienced an extended power outage at your home.
  • Your pharmacy lost power for an extended period during a storm or power failure, and medications were stored in an area without air conditioning.
  • Your pharmacy turns off air conditioning when the store is closed evenings and/or weekends.
  • You get your medications from a mail-order pharmacy and your drugs spend time in overheated delivery trucks, shipping areas, and/or in your mailbox.

During summer, if you take prescription medications, pay particular attention to any unusual symptoms that may suggest your medication isn't working properly. These sorts of symptoms may be a sign that your medication has lost potency due to heat.

How to Protect Your Medication

To ensure that your medications, including thyroid drugs, are fresh and fully effective, here are some pointers:

  • Check the storage information for any medications you take so that you are aware of any temperature restrictions.
  • Carry medications on the airplane with you, instead of storing them in your checked luggage. (This is always a good idea because of the risk of lost luggage). Note, however, that to avoid problems for domestic travel, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) recommends, but does not require, that your prescription medications be labeled to assist with the screening process. International travelers should travel with medicines in their original containers with pharmacy labels, so you can more easily pass through customs checkpoints.
  • If you are traveling by car, do not store medications in the trunk. Keep them in the car with you. Do not leave them in your car for extended periods.
  • If you have experienced an extended power outage at your home, contact your pharmacist to find out whether your medication should be replaced.
  • Ask your pharmacy what sort of plan they have in place to protect medications in the event of a power failure. (For example, some pharmacies have an emergency generator for refrigerated medications, or to air condition the drug storage area. Ensure that they do not turn off air conditioning when the store is closed.
  • If you have the option, have mail order medications or internet pharmacies ship to you by overnight delivery methods, and be there to accept the package.

What to Do if Your Medication Has Been Exposed to Excessive Heat

First, talk to your pharmacist and see what he or she recommends.

Your next step should be a call to your health insurance company or HMO, who may be able to replace your medication or reimburse you for a replacement prescription.

Finally, if your pharmacy and insurance company are unable to help you, contact the manufacturer. According to drugmaker AbbVie's consumer hotline, it's possible—not guaranteed, however—that AbbVie and other drug makers may be able to offer some form of reimbursement for heat-damaged medications.

Note for Thyroid Patients

The consumer medical hotline for Synthroid's manufacturer, AbbVie, recommends that patients replace their thyroid medication if the pills have been stored at temperatures above 86 degrees for any length of time.

All levothyroxine drugs—such as Synthroid, Levoxyl, Unithroid, and generic levothyroxine —should be stored away from light and moisture, and at a temperature no higher than 86 F. This temperature guideline also applies to Cytomel (liothyronine), natural desiccated thyroid drugs like Nature-throid, and the antithyroid drugs PTU and methimazole.

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