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Heat and humidity can hasten the deterioration and risk of medications TO YOUR HEALTH


Have you ever stashed crayons in the glove compartment of the car in the summer? When you pull them out later in the trip, all that's left is a sticky, gooey mess.

If you left Preparation H suppositories on the front seat on a hot day, the same thing would happen. After all, they're designed to melt at body temperature. The temperature in a car can quickly top 100 degrees.

Most medicine isn't like suppositories. If you take it out of the car when you get home from an hour or two of running errands, you probably won't see any difference. Yet exposure to such high temperatures can hasten the deterioration of drugs.

These days, many medications cost more than a dollar a pill. To maximize your investment you must treat your prescriptions properly. These complex molecular structures may begin to break down within minutes when exposed to high heat and humidity.

Pharmaceutical companies take great care to maintain quality control during the manufacture and initial shipment of their medicines. Each box goes out with an expiration date. But once it leaves the warehouse the process breaks down.

People who rely on mail-order medications during the summer may be at special risk. Trucks that transport pills from warehouses are rarely refrigerated. The temperature can skyrocket during shipment.

Even when people buy their pills in a pharmacy and get them home safely, storing them properly may be the weakest link in the chain. The bathroom medicine chest is probably the worst possible place to keep drugs.

If a tablet changes color or begins to crumble, that's a sign that time, temperature or humidity are taking their toll. Some medications give off a telltale odor when they begin to break down. Aspirin, for example, smells like vinegar. But most medicines don't provide obvious clues to their chemical changes.

That's why it is important to discard drugs that have been collecting dust in the medicine chest. While over-the-counter products now come with expiration dates printed on the package, most prescriptions have only the date they are dispensed. Experts recommend that all medications be discarded by either the manufacturers' expiration date or one year from the date of dispensing, whichever comes first.

Q: This has been a very hard year at work. The company restructured and quite a few people were laid off. The rest of us are under a lot of pressure to do more.

Last winter everything seemed so bleak I talked to my doctor. He prescribed Prozac, which has made a tremendous difference in my outlook. He also said my blood pressure was up again and put me on a drug called Procardia. I don't know if it's the stress at work, the medicine or something else, but I'm having trouble sexually.

Lately I've had difficulty with erections, and that's discouraged me from sex. I've heard in ads that ginseng gives you more energy and might help with this problem. What can you tell me about it?

A: Ginseng has long been touted as an aphrodisiac, but renowned herbalist and pharmacist Dr. Varro Tyler says, "There is no evidence of enhanced sexual experience or potency resulting from its use."

Hungarian researchers have found that a chemical cousin of ginseng (DLRE) had a positive effect in aged male rats. The extract "transformed a high percentage of sluggish rats to sexually fully active animals." People aren't rats, though, and this research has yet to be confirmed in humans.

We suggest you talk to your doctor about your medications. Both Prozac (fluoxetine) and Procardia (nifedipine) have been linked to sexual problems.

We are sending you our brochure, "Drugs That Affect Sexuality." tells which common medicines can alter libido and performance and discusses alternatives and treatments for impotence. Anyone who would like a copy can send $2 with a long (No. 10) stamped, self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. Y-719, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

Stress or depression can both impair normal sexual response. If modifying your drug regimen isn't effective, a sex counselor may be helpful.

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