Traveling With Enbrel

What a challenge to need refrigerated medicine when you don’t have a refrigerator!  When I first started Enbrel, one of my scheduling considerations was finding an injection day/time that would minimize the need to travel with my weekly shot.  The perfect solution for me has been mid-week injections.  I don’t travel often, and when I do it’s usually a long weekend.  By avoiding Friday-Monday as the day to take my weekly medications, those rare excursions away from home have been easy.

Until now.  We just got home from a family vacation — a 5000 mile road trip.  Fortunately, I already had a medication travel kit because I requested one when my Enbrel was first prescribed.

My travel kit came with a lunch-box sized insulated bag, an ice pack that zips into a pocket in the bag, a small sharps container that also fits into the bag, and another bag full of alcohol wipes.  It was pretty nice to have everything I needed all together in a tidy little package.

There were a few glitches on our trip.

  • Always make sure the hotel room’s refrigerator is plugged in and working if you’re going to rely on it to keep things cold for you.
  • The fact that six hotels had a refrigerator in every room is no guarantee that the seventh hotel will have a refrigerator.  Ask before checking in.
  • If it’s necessary to place medication in the hotel’s commercial refrigerator, use whatever excuse is needed to do it yourself.  I had one hotel clerk think that if there was an ice pack in my bag, he could save himself five seconds of work by placing the entire travel bag into the freezer instead of just the ice pack in the freezer and the rest of my stuff in the ‘fridge.  Lucky for me, he said, “I’ll just put the whole thing in the freezer for you” After a brief moment of panic, I convinced him to let me do the job myself.

And the big one:

  • Refrigerator temperatures vary widely.  Some refrigerators are cold enough to freeze things.  Great if you have a bottle of water to keep cold all day in a hot car.  Not so good to remove your Enbrel from the refrigerator and discover that it is frozen solid.

Yes.  Saturday morning my Enbrel was frozen.

To say that I was not happy is an understatement.

Frantic

I contacted Enbrel Support and was informed that Enbrel should not be frozen.  I don’t often cuss, but I surely was tempted.  I didn’t try to freeze it.  All I did was stick it in the room’s refrigerator – which turned out to be extra cold!

I was then asked if I had a thermometer to check the temperature of the refrigerator.  Are you kidding me?  Who would pack a refrigerator thermometer in their vacation luggage?

Eventually the nurse read me what sounded like a prepared legal statement:  there is data to suggest that Enbrel that was frozen briefly in a household freezer (not a commercial freezer) can still be used after it thaws (just don’t do anything stupid like soaking it in warm water or putting it in the microwave).  Apparently people who are stupid enough to think that a refrigerator is a safe place to store refrigerated medication need to be warned not to microwave that medicine.

Who’s On First

Enbrel Support:  It should be okay, but contact your doctor.

Doctor’s Office:  Definitely not okay; contact Enbrel.

My doctor’s office, when I finally phoned, sounded every bit as concerned as I’d felt when I first discovered the frozen box.  They said, NO.  In no uncertain terms, the nurse said it would not be safe.  I should not use the frozen med and she offered me one of their samples.  Apparently the nurse only got the “frozen” part of the message, and not the “on vacation” part.  We talked some more, and eventually she said that she only knows what Enbrel tells her.  If they said it would be okay, I could go ahead and try it.

I can confirm what the support nurse said:  it doesn’t last as long, but it did work.

Next Time

I am now investigating the Frio that Helen recommended, and will report back.  It sounds like a better solution than the ice pack I used, and would have avoided the refrigerator/freezer issues entirely.

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14 thoughts on “Traveling With Enbrel

  1. Welcome home, Socks! Missed you, and glad you’re all home safe and sound.

    Also glad to know that, for the most part, you were able to keep your Enbrel cool — and that, in the end, it was safe for you to use even though it had been accidentally frozen. I checked out the Frio site, and wow, that IS a great product. I’ve no need for such a thing at the moment, but it’s nice to know that it exists.

    Looking forward to reading about your 5,000-mile adventure, after you’ve had some time to rest up a bit. Hope you’re feeling well and that your shoulder isn’t troubling you too much …

    Best,
    Wren

  2. Wow ditto the Frio! And I’m envious of your little travel-size sharps container; Enbrel Canada doesn’t offer any similar thing for some bizarre reason (I’m going to send them a copy of your post, so they can see exactly what I’m talking about) – and it’s not like we Canadians don’t travel. Duh!

    Sounds like your trip must have been some adventure. Like Wren, I can’t wait to read about it!

    Take care and have a good day!
    :) L

  3. Socks: Welcome home. Thanks (unfortunately) for the war stories of traveling with Enbrel. I’ve set my injection days for Wednesday for exactly the same reason — I’m seldom out of town on that day. It’s great to have you back. Hope the other parts of your vacation were more enjoyable and less harrowing!

  4. Welcome back! Good to see you home safe and sound. I have been pondering what to do on my next trip. I have finally come to the conclusion that I will have to skip my Humira shot for that week I am away. Headed to Ecuador ( if the volcano calms down) and am sure there will be no fridge in the room or ice for that matter. Maybe the Frio is the answer.

    Can’t wait to hear about where you have been.

  5. Thank you for the warm welcome back.

    Life’s been very busy; we’re having 60 guests on Saturday and I have tons to do to get ready, then dentist and two dr appts next week. And I’m going on a retreat next weekend, so have to get the house ready to run with me gone.

  6. also a good word of advice with travelling and unknown refigerators:
    wrap your enbrel in a hand towel before putting in the fridge.1) if the temperature is proper, your med will be safe anyway and 2) if your fridge has a cold spot that causes freezing, your med will be protected by the insulating layer. I learned this from an old nurse!

  7. Have just begun to seek a solution to carrying Enbrel pens when on business.
    The friouk.com site appears to be no more. Have they changed address/gone out of business?
    Would have thought Enbrel themselves might have devised a small neat solution for briefcase carriers.
    Any ideas?

    • The travel kit pictured in this post is one that Enbrel sent to me, free, just for the asking. The purple bag is a soft-sided cooler and would fit into a briefcase (well, I guess that depends on how many papers you carry, but it would probably fit). Sorry I don’t know anything about the frio site. I’ll try to do a post in a few days telling more about that little Enbrel cooler.

  8. hello! did you try the frio?
    how did you like it for enbrel?
    i would love to hear how it worked for you! i hate traveling with melting ice packs dripping all over the place. i once had my enbrel in a cooler on the top rack of a bus, it melted during the course of the day, burst the plastic bag it was in and spilled water all over the passengers sitting below. i was MORTIFIED.
    thanks for you advice!

  9. I’m going to Canada from England UK I’ve been told Embrel do a travel bag but I can’t find anyone who can supply one I would buy one if I knew where to find one kay

    • The makers of Enbrel sent me a free travel kit for the asking, but that was a few years ago. I don’t know if they do that any longer. It’s just an insulated bag, with an outside pocket for holding an ice pack, plus a small sharps container. Any insulated bag should work, along with a first-aid kit type ice pack to keep things cold. Try looking at lunch bags? Good luck!

      • Hi thanks warm socks. Cos I live in England UK Enbrel USA are the only people who are supplying the bag, thanks for your help about lunch bags great idea.

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