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What's the 411 on Expired Medicine?

What's the 411 on Expired Medicine? Can

Expiration Dates Are Required

Does the expiration label on a bottle of medicine really define the last possible day for consumption? Not exactly, so why have an expiration date?

A 1979 Food and Drug Administration law requires drug manufacturers to provide an expiration date on all product packages. According to Dr. Sharon Bergquist, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal, this date is actually “the final date up to which the manufacturer will guarantee that medicine has full potency.”

In other words, the expiration date — usually anywhere from 12 to 60 months after the original container is opened — doesn’t necessarily mean that the medicine will be unsafe to consume after this period, but that it will start to lose potency over time. Typically, the longer medicine is kept on the shelf, the less effective it becomes.

Potency vs. Effectiveness

In most cases, drugs have not been tested for effectiveness or toxicity past the stamped expiration date, so there is very little scientific research to back up the expiration claim.

Ask yourself, “Is this medicine lifesaving?”

If so, think twice before taking it beyond the expiration date, because diminished potency could have a severe impact on your life. For example, you can get away with taking expired aspirin if you have a backache, but prescribed lifesaving medicines like insulin or an EpiPen that require specific dosages should not be risked. As a rule of thumb, if you need your medicine to be 100% effective, continue to have it refilled so that it never reaches expiration.

Not All Drugs Are Alike

Some medicines tend to have a longer shelf life than others. According to Women’s Day, “Gel capsules, liquids and suspensions (in which the active ingredient is ‘suspended’ in liquid) lose potency more quickly than pills and capsules.” Even worse, these are at risk of becoming contaminated by bacteria.

Liquid medicine doesn’t last as long as tablets or pills, so consider this when choosing the form you would like to take. It’s especially important to look for a few obvious signs of expiration in liquid medicine. For example, if you open your liquid medicine bottle and notice crystallization, a strong smell or see excess liquid that is cracked around the rim of the bottle, discard it.

Storage Matters

If you take proper care of your medicine, there’s a better chance of it lasting until the expiration date (and maybe even long after). Pay close attention to the labels on your medicine for specific storage instructions. Does your medicine require refrigeration or storage in a cool, dry place away from your sink? Be mindful of moisture, light and high temperatures, especially if you leave your medicine uncovered or in a vehicle. By following the recommended storage instructions, there is a better chance that your medicine will remain potent for a longer time.

Ask Your Doctor

Before attempting to consume any expired medicine, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. When regarding the safety of expired medicines, it’s important to note that medicine may change its physical or chemical properties over time. If you notice that your tablet medicine has disintegrated or liquid medicine has separated into layers, those are clear signs of expiration and danger.

Patient Plus does not advise the use of expired or unsafe drugs. Consult your doctor before attempting to use drugs that have reached or passed their expiration dates.

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