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The Pills in Your Medicine Cabinet May be Worthless

Despite the name, the medicine cabinet is the WORST place to store drugs because of the high heat and humidity in a bathroom, both of which can damage prescriptions and over-the-counter meds. Pharmaceutical manufacturers recommend most of their products be stored at a controlled room temperature of 68 to 77 degrees.

In the August 16th edition of the New York Times, Walecia Konrad quotes pharmacologist Skye McKennon as saying, "During heat waves and cold spells, storage locations can go above or below those ranges, causing medicines to physically change, lose potency or even threaten your health." Any type of diagnostic test strip is extremely sensitive to humidity, because if moisture sticks to the strips, it can dilute the test liquid and give a false reading. Thyroid, birth control and other medicines that contain hormones are especially susceptible to temperature changes, since these are often protein-based, and when protein gets hot it changes.

Konrad quotes McKennon as saying, "Think of an egg. When it gets hot, it cooks." And what about the expiration date on these bottles--do medicines really get too old? Or are expiration dates just a ploy to get us to buy more drugs? As long as we don't buy fake aspirin, we assume all our prescriptions and over-the-counter meds are OK.

On medscape.com, Richard Altschuler writes, " If a bottle of Tylenol, for example, says something like 'Do not use after June 1998,' and it is August 2002, should you take the Tylenol? Should you discard it? Can you get hurt if you take it? Will it simply have lost its potency and do you no good?" The expiration date became required by law in the US in 1979, specifies only the date the manufacturer guarantees the full potency and safety of the drug: It doesn't indicate how long the drug is actually safe to use. Studies show that expired drugs may lose some of their potency over time, from as little as 5% or less to 50% or more, but even 10 years after the "expiration date," most drugs have a lot of their original potency. Almost all medical authorities say it's OK to take drugs past their expiration date--you won't get hurt and you certainly won't die.

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