Keeping Medications and Contraceptives Safe through the Summer

Highs in the triple digits are common in Arizona during the summer months. As the mercury rises, we’re often reminded about the things we need to do to stay healthy in hot weather, like avoiding dehydration, heat exhaustion, and sunburn. Those tips are important — and can even be potentially life-saving — but what’s often missing from summertime health advice is information about using medications and contraceptives safely and effectively when a hot environment can quickly diminish their integrity. That’s a serious omission when Americans buy about 5 billion over-the-counter drug products annually and nearly half of all Americans use one or more prescription drugs.


Heat can alter the molecular structure of oral contraceptives or shorten a condom’s shelf life.


Extreme heat and cold can cause medications to change physically, and those changes can make medications less potent — and for some medications, unsafe to use. Oral contraceptives and other medications that contain hormones are especially susceptible, since the proteins they contain can change their properties during heat exposure.

The labels on medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription, typically recommend storing them in a cool, dry place and keeping them away from excessive heat and humidity, or might give a specific temperature range, commonly 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 25 degrees Celsius). That’s an ideal range, but most medications are still usable after storage in temperatures as low as 32 to 58 degrees Fahrenheit (zero to 14 degrees Celsius) and as high as 80 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 30 degrees Celsius). Advice varies, so it’s always best to consult a physician or pharmacist when less-than-ideal storage has already happened or is anticipated. Help is also available at Planned Parenthood health centers, where staff can answer questions about general health care and about using contraceptives safely and effectively. Continue reading