What You Should Know Before You Toss Out Those Expired Medications

You have a splitting headache and dust off the cobwebs on your medicine box only to find that most of the medications have expired… over a year ago! Now you are at a loss – if you take the medication, will it still work or can it make a bad situation worse? None of us really know what happens if you take expired medicines, which is why we expect the worst. Will taking an expired aspirin land you in hospital? A recent study tested expired medications and the results were shocking!

How Long After The Expiry Date Are Medications Effective?

“According to regulations, medications that contain a minimum of 90% concentration of their labelled amount are considered to be “effective”- studies found that most drugs have almost 100% of their labeled concentrations even after decades!”

The study focused on long-expired medications that had been stored in their original unopened containers. All of the medications had expired between 28 and 40 years before the time of the analysis tests! According to regulations, medications that contain a minimum of 90% concentration of their labelled amount are considered to be “effective” – and 12 of the 14 drug compounds that were analyzed passed the test. Aspirin and amphetamine were the 2 compounds that were present in amounts less than 90% of the labelled content. Most of the other drugs had almost 100% of their labeled concentrations – after decades!

Can An Expired Medicine Turn Toxic?

“To date, there are no reports of toxicity due to the degradation of pharmaceutical compounds in outdated drugs”

Although expired medicines can lose their efficacy, there is no scientific evidence that expired drugs are toxic in any way. To date, there are no reports of toxicity due to the degradation of pharmaceutical compounds in outdated drugs. Tests and analysis on medications have also not found any indication that expired medicines can turn toxic.

What Do Expiry Dates On Medications Mean?

“Manufacturers are free to set expiry dates as they see fit, which means that even if a medication is effective for 5 years, a manufacturer can set the expiry date as 1 year”

We assume that the expiration date on a medication means that we cannot have the medicine after that date; however, what the expiration date really means is that the manufacturer is not willing to guarantee the effectiveness of the medicine after that date. Drug expiration dates generally range from 12 to 60 months from the production date. Manufacturers are free to set expiry dates as they see fit, so long as the medication is effective up to the printed expiry date on the label. This means that even if a medication is effective for 5 years, a manufacturer can set the expiry date as 1 year. A US program that studies the long-term stability of drugs found that 88 % of drugs could have their expiration date extended well over a year – and the average extension for most drugs was 5 years past the expiry date.

Are All Medications Effective After Their Expiry Date?

“Liquid antibiotics, vaccines, tetracyclin, and nitroglycerin are among the few drugs that have a specific shelf life and so they should not be taken after their expiry date”

While most medications are effective for years or even decades after their expiry date, there are some medications that degrade in time. Medications such as liquid antibiotics, vaccines, tetracyclin, and nitroglycerin are among the few that have a specific shelf life and so they should not be taken after their expiry date. Epinephrine loses its potency rapidly and so products such as the EpiPen should not be used if they are past their expiry date, and the same goes for all other insulin medications.

Some drugs degrade only slightly, but even the slightest decrease in potency can have severe consequences and so you need to stick to the expiry date printed on the label of the medicine. This would hold true for all anticonvulsants, thyroid medications, oral contraceptives, and medications that contain Dilantin, phenobarbital, Warfarin, or Digoxin. Eye drops should not be used past their expiry date, as bacteria could proliferate in the solution and cause further problems.

Store your medications properly, as this will help them last well past their expiry dates. Keep them in their original containers and store them in a cool and dry place, preferably a drawer, where they will be protected from direct sunlight. As it’s always wise to be cautious, talk to your doctor before you take any medications that are past their expiry date.

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