Storing Your Medication Here Can Increase Side Effects, Study Finds

Researchers say the findings are "counterintuitive." Here's how to safely store your meds.

For many Americans managing chronic conditions, taking medications and supplements is an important part of staying healthy. And if you're juggling multiple prescriptions, you may have a special way of storing your meds to keep track of which ones to take, and when. However, a new study published in the journal Health Technology Assessment found that one popular storage method can actually increase your risk of experiencing adverse effects from medications—something researchers found "counterintuitive" given the product's purpose. Read on to find out which storage method could raise the risk of side effects—and why you shouldn't stop using it if you've already started.

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Most Americans over 50 take regular daily medication.

man in his late fifties reaches for one of his prescription medication bottles as he sits at his dining room table
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Everyone needs a prescription filled from time to time, but you may be surprised to learn just how many prescriptions the average American fills each year.

According to the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, over 131 million Americans, or 66 percent of all adults in the U.S., use prescription drugs each year. And the odds of requiring multiple drugs increases with age. "Three-quarters of those aged 50 to 64 use prescription drugs, compared to 91 percent of those aged 80 and older," their experts write. "The average number of prescriptions filled [annually] also increases with age, from 13 for those aged 50 to 64 to 22 for those aged 80 and older."

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Changing the way you store your medications can have adverse effects, one study found.

A Variety of Open Pill Bottles
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A study conducted by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) analyzed the impact of seniors storing their prescription drugs in pill organizers. While these are generally touted as a way to minimize adverse effects by lowering the risk of double-dosing or forgetting one's meds entirely, what the researchers discovered was counterintuitive. Using data from "unintentionally non-adherent older people"—meaning seniors who frequently forgot to take their regular medication—the team learned that people who switched to medication organizers were more likely to experience side effects than those who took their pills directly from the bottles.

"We found that on average, when patients who had previously taken their medication sporadically were switched to a pill organizer, they took all of their medication and became unwell, whilst those who remained on usual medication packaging did not have any adverse effects," said Debi Bhattacharya, PhD, a lead author of the study from UEA's School of Pharmacy, via press release.

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Here's why researchers think it happens.

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While medication organizers can help people take the recommended dosages, the transition from labeled bottles to organizers can cause adverse effects.

"It is likely that because the patients had been taking their medication sporadically, they weren't getting the expected health improvements. The doctor may therefore have increased the dose of the medication to try to get the desired effect," Bhattacharya explained. "When these patients were switched to a pill organizer and suddenly started taking more of their prescribed medication than previously, they experienced normal side effects of the medication."

If you're already using a pill organizer, don't stop now.

Senior woman taking meds from pill organizer
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While using pill organizers can increase your risk of adverse effects at the time of transition, researchers stressed that if you're already using them without any issues, you shouldn't stop.

In the long term, these products offer considerable benefits. "People who are already using a pill organizer without any ill effects should not stop using it, as they do seem to help some patients take their medication as prescribed," said Bhattacharya. "It's the switching stage which appears to be the danger."

The key, researchers say, is to consult your doctor or pharmacist when you intend to switch storage methods to ensure that you've been prescribed appropriate doses. To this end, it's important to be transparent with your medical providers if you have not been taking all of your medication as recommended before switching to a pill organizer.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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