Is it okay to take expired medication?
DISCLAIMER: We are not an official health source. Please refer to your primary care doctor for any medicinal needs or questions. Taking prescription medication prescribed to someone else is illegal.
All medication information significantly depends on the individual label and cannot be spoken for unanimously. That said, not every medication type goes bad immediately after the expiry date or has effects that are guaranteed to harm the consumer. It's important to research each medication separately and with a healthcare provider or some other reputable resource, however, before proceeding with consumption.
Many medications do not go bad with age but instead lose their potency. This means it may still be safe to use them, while they may not work as well and may make dosing more complicated. The effects of medication used beyond its prime are impossible to know without exact testing, and thus, users cannot know all the risks. The United States Air Force produced a study in 1985 of many expired or nearly expired medications, which found that most still had a similar effect. Another study in 2012 also found similar results about medications expired between 28 and 40 years ago, wherein most were over 90% effective. The rest were either slightly too effective or somewhat less effective.
Some medications you should never use after their expiry date: nitroglycerin, insulin, liquid antibiotics, mefloquine, and Epi-pens. Federally regulated drugs are required to have an expiration date, the date which indicates when a product retains its full potency, and remains effective. As a result, many medical products are wasted every year when they could otherwise be safely used. Labeling protects the company from liability if something did go wrong, but it doesn't always mean the product is no good.
Many people don't fully understand what expiration labeling for drugs means. Unlike food products, which may look or smell bad after their expiration dates, most drugs will look and smell the same. The expiration dates on drugs refer to the last day the manufacturer guarantees the medication will have full potency. Most pharmacies require an additional 'use by' or 'discard after' date to be added to each prescription, well in advance of the manufacturer's expiration date. This is because manufacturers' expiration dates are only good for as long as the medication is unopened. Once the user opens the medication, heat, sunlight, and humidity may alter its effectiveness.
A medication's potency is extremely important when treating many conditions. A slight decrease of only a small percentage in the potency could cause significant problems. Likewise, treating infections with old medicine that may not have its original strength might not entirely kill the bacteria. In addition to prolonging the symptoms, it may lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria or bacterial colonization.
Most drugs will not become toxic after their shelf life. Again, it's all about potency and reliability. For example, if one were experiencing chest pain and took a nitroglycerine tablet to avoid having a cardiac incident, they would want that medicine to be full strength. If the medication is not fully effective due to expiration, one might not get the entire benefit. This also leaves medical professionals to guess how much of the active substance their patient had actually ingested. When it comes to expired medication, it is impossible to know if the drugs have retained full potency, and are, therefore, unsafe.
- The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring an expiration date on prescription and over-the-counter medicines in 1979. FDA
- Expired medicines can be less effective due to a change in chemical composition or a decrease in strength. They can be at risk of bacterial growth and expired antibiotics can fail to treat infections, leading to serious illness. FDA
- Liquid medications and some antibiotics are at a higher risk of extended storage comprising their safety and effectiveness.
- 12 to 60 months is the usual expiration limit for prescribed medications in the US.
- There are studies that show that prescription and over-the-counter medication can last longer than the expiration date, especially when stored in dry, cool places away from light.