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Warning: Hot Temperatures May be Hazardous to Your Drugs

One casualty of heat waves and summer power outages that you may not realize is your prescription medication.

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

Most drugs are recommended to be stored at what's known as "controlled room temperature" -- an average of approximately 77 F. Some permit what are known as "controlled excursions" -- short periods to accommodate shipping, for example -- at temperatures up to 86 F for shorter periods.

Controlled room temperature is defined by the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) as, "A temperature maintained thermostatically that encompasses the usual and customary working environment of 20 to 25 C (68 - 77 F) that allows for brief deviations between 15 - 30 C (59 - 86 F) that are experienced in pharmacies, hospitals, and warehouses."

Summer heat, however, can expose your medications to dangerous temperatures that can potentially degrade your drugs -- and often, without your knowing. For example:

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 MedicationTo ensure that your medication is fresh, and fully effective, here are some summer pointers:What Should You Do if Your Medication Has Been Exposed to Excessive Heat?Your first step? 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 Abbott Laboratories' consumer hotline, it's possible -- not guaranteed however -- that Abbott and other drug makers may be able to offer some form of reimbursement for heat-damaged medications.

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

All the levothyroxine drugs -- such as Synthroid, Levoxyl, Levothroid, 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), Armour (desiccated thyroid), and the antithyroid drugs PTU and methimazole. (NOTE: The synthetic T4/T3 drug Thyrolar (liotrix) should be refrigerated, at a temperature no higher than 46 F.)

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