Chemical Potency and Degradation Products of Medications Stored Over 550 Earth Days at the International Space Station
Medications degrade over time, and degradation is hastened by extreme storage conditions. Current procedures ensure that medications aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are restocked before their expiration dates, but resupply may not be possible on future long-duration exploration missions. For this reason, medications stored on the ISS were returned to Earth for analysis. This was an opportunistic, observational pilot-scale investigation to test the hypothesis that ISS-aging does not cause unusual degradation. Nine medications were analyzed for active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) content and degradant amounts; results were compared to 2012 United States Pharmacopeia (USP) requirements. The medications were two sleep aids, two antihistamines/decongestants, three pain relievers, an antidiarrheal, and an alertness medication. Because the samples were obtained opportunistically from unused medical supplies, each medication was available at only 1 time point and no control samples (samples aged for a similar period on Earth) were available. One medication met USP requirements 5 months after its expiration date. Four of the nine (44% of those tested) medications tested met USP requirements 8 months post expiration. Another three medications (33%) met USP guidelines 2–3 months before expiration. One compound, a dietary supplement used as a sleep aid, failed to meet USP requirements at 11 months post expiration. No unusual degradation products were identified. Limited, evidence-based extension of medication shelf-lives may be possible and would be useful in preparation for lengthy exploration missions. Only analysis of flight-aged samples compared to appropriately matched ground controls will permit determination of the spaceflight environment on medication stability.