11 May 2010
By Vivek Narayan
‘Store in a cool dry place.’ How many times have you read that on the label of a medicine? And how many times have you taken it seriously?
A hot, humid environment can speed up the breakdown of drugs and kill their potency. Chennai, especially during summer, is anything but a cool, dry place, and your drugs might end up doing the opposite of what they are expected to do.
Experts say antibiotics and biological medicines stored at home during summer – also the season of power cuts – are most prone to damage. For most Indians, the popular spots for storing medicines are kitchen or bathroom cabinets, which are the worst storage areas as the places are exposed to heat and humidity.
The Indian Pharmacopoeia, which is the sole authority for all drugs manufactured and sold in India, prescribes specific storage conditions for every formulation. If it is not followed, the medicine may become inert before its expiry date.
Schedule P of the Drugs and Cosmetic Rules deals with the potency period of drugs in direct relation to storage conditions specified by Indian Pharmacopoeia. While trained pharmacists follow the storage protocol, people who store medicines at home just stack them up carelessly.
“Some patients, especially elderly persons living alone, buy large quantities of medicines to avoid frequenting pharmacy. Most of the antibiotics and biological medicines get spoilt if not stored under specified conditions for a prolonged period, say, for over a month,” said an expert from the pharmaceutical industry. Insulin, for example, should be stored in refrigerator, at 2 degrees to 8 degrees Celsius. “Insulin loses its potency if not stored properly and it will not be able to reduce sugar levels,” said Dr V Mohan, president of Mohan’s Diabetes Research Foundation.
There are several families that store over–the–counter drugs at home. “I always keep some common tablets and cough syrups at home. In fact, I keep the syrups in my kitchen. All I look at is the expiry date,” said Manoj R, a sales manager.
Making things worse are the power cuts. Madhava Naidu, a resident of Vadapalani who had suffered seizures, said every time there was an outage he got flustered. “I have a separate mini–refrigerator to store my medicines. But when there is no power for hours, there is little that you can do,” he said.
For example, a hot environment (kitchen cabinet, car dashboard) can cause aspirin tablets to break down into acetic acid (vinegar) and salicylic acid, causing stomach irritation. Some of the common medicines that are have to be stored in room temperature (25 degrees Celsius) are Ampicillin, Amoxycyllin, Cephalexin, Chloromphenicol, Cloxacillin, Doxycycline, Erythromycin, Refampicin, all Penicillin drugs, Tetracyclin and Gentamycin. These are commonly used antibiotics.
All vaccines should be stored in temperatures ranging from 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.
- Needs to be stored at 2-8°C
- Temperature inside a non-AC room in Chennai can touch 32°C
If exposed to higher temperature, insulin loses its potency, will not be able to reduce sugar levels
- Need to be stored at temperatures between 15 and 30°C
- Prolonged exposure to higher temperature can cause aspirin tablets to break down into acetic acid (vinegar) and salicylic acid