March 5, 2013, 12:42 pm
Ask Well: Can Weather Affect Mail Order Drugs?By ANAHAD O’CONNOR
Ordering prescription drugs online is increasingly popular. But the convenience of receiving drugs through the mail carries the small but additional risk that your medication may be damaged during shipping.
Most medications can be susceptible to losing some of their potency when exposed to environmental extremes, though the extent varies from one to the next, said Lee Cantrell, a professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco. Some of the conditions that affect potency are heat, moisture and humidity. Freezing temperatures can be damaging as well, especially for medications that come in liquid form, like insulin.
“Direct sunlight can be problematic for medications as well,” Dr. Cantrell said. “That’s why they’re never stored in clear bottles.”
In one study inspired by patient stories about mail order asthma medications that had shown up looking degraded and in damaged packaging, researchers at the Carl Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix exposed packages of Formoterol, a commonly used asthma drug, to different conditions for four-hour periods. Some simulated temperatures inside mailboxes in the Southwest, which can climb to over 158 degrees Fahrenheit.
When the mercury reached 158 degrees or higher, the medication clumped and the capsules became distorted, and the authors noted a “significant decline” in the drug’s potency. They cautioned that people should be aware of other situations where medication can be exposed to extreme heat, “like car trunks and interiors.”
Of course, not every prescription drug ordered through the mail will end up in a sweltering mailbox or delivery truck. And in some cases, pharmacies take precautions to prevent such problems by packing sensitive medications in dry ice.
But be sure to look at the storage information for any drugs ordered through the mail. If you have concerns, contact the pharmacy or wholesaler and ask what they do to protect the integrity of the medication during shipping, said Dr. Cantrell.