Many people with arthritis rely on medications to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and prevent further joint damage. But if those medicines aren’t properly stored they may not work as promised?

The fact is, exposure to light, humidity, and extreme temperatures can break down both prescription and over-the-counter drugs, making them less effective. Altered medicines can even turn toxic, although that's uncommon, says Philip Chan, a pharmacist at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Pharmacy.

"When most drugs break down, the result isn't toxicity. The main concern is loss of potency and efficacy. For people with a chronic illness, medicine that doesn't work can be life-threatening," he says.

Yet storing medications safely can be challenging, especially since many drugs have unique requirements that may not mesh easily with the demands of everyday life.

"Storage conditions for drugs vary," Chan says. "Biologics, unopened insulin, and a number of other injectables need refrigeration. Other drugs, such as nabumetone, or Ralafen, are fine at room temperature but are sensitive to light and moisture."

He stresses that pharmacists should clearly communicate to patients how to store their medications. And patients should read – and save – the information that comes with their prescriptions, as well as take advantage of the counseling session with their pharmacist.

Chan also offers these suggestions.

Avoid bathroom cabinets
"The bathroom isn't a great place to store medications because of the high heat and humidity," he says. A better choice is a kitchen counter or cabinet away from children's reach, sunlight, and heat sources, such as the stove and refrigerator.

Another option is a drawer in a bedroom bureau, provided it's used every day so pills aren't forgotten. Chan says that some people recommend storing medicine in boxes or closets, but that isn’t always the best choice because out of sight can mean out of mind. A better choice? “The kitchen is a place people always come back to," he says.