Do expired medications lose their potency?

The big question is, do pills expire? With a splitting headache, you reach into your medicine cabinet for some aspirin only to find the stamped expiration date on the medicine bottle is more than a year out of date. So, does medicine expire?

Do you take it or don't you? If you decide to take the aspirin, will it be a fatal mistake or will you simply continue to suffer from the headache? This is a dilemma many people face in some way or another. A column published in Psychopharmacology Today offers some advice. It turns out that the expiration date on a drug does stand for something, but probably not what you think it does. Since a law was passed in , drug manufacturers are required to stamp an expiration date on their products. This is the date at which the manufacturer can still guarantee the full potency and safety of the drug.

Most of what is known about drug expiration dates comes from a study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration at the request of the military. With a large and expensive stockpile of drugs, the military faced tossing out and replacing its drugs every few years. So the expiration date doesn't really indicate a point at which the medication is no longer effective or has become unsafe to use.

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Medical authorities state if expired medicine is safe to take, even those that expired years ago. Expired medications that contain preservatives, such as ophthalmic eye drops, may be unsafe past their expiration date. However, research on expired EpiPens has been published. The lowest level of epinephrine was found in an EpiPen Jr.

In a life-threatening allergic situation, if there is no other option, use of an expired EpiPen should be considered if it is the only auto-injector available and there are no discoloration or precipitates seen in the solution.

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In this case, the potential benefit of saving a life is greater than the potential risk of death by not using it all. There's really no way to know unless drugs are tested, but here are some common sense measures:.

Drug Expiration Dates — Do They Mean Anything?

Proper storage of medications may help to extend their potency. The bathroom and medicine cabinet are not ideal places to store medications due to heat and humidity. Similarly, medications should not be left in a hot car or glovebox, or in freezing weather.

Medications remain most stable in dry, cool spaces away from light. Keep the prescription bottle caps tightly closed and always keep medications out of reach of children and pets. Another important point, especially considering the national opioid epidemic. Discard unused or expired controlled substances like hydrocodone and acetaminophen Vicodin, Lotab, Norco or oxycodone Oxycontin as soon as possible due to the risk for overdose, theft, or diversion of the medication.

Plus, learn about the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day held twice per year in your city as a safe way to dispose of these prescription medications. Should patients use expired medications or not? It's always best to use medications that are NOT expired; it's just the safest route.

Thrown out, but still usable: the myth of drug expiration dates | American Pharmacists Association

If a medication is essential for a chronic and potentially life-threatening disease, for example, a heart condition, cancer treatment, seizure, or life-threatening allergy, it is probably wise to get a new prescription before it expires and keep up with refills as needed. However, if a medication is needed, and the patient is not able to replace the expired medication, there is no evidence that it is unsafe to take the medication in most cases. If this is the case, a new prescription is needed. For example, if using ibuprofen Advil or acetaminophen Tylenol that's outdated does not relieve your headache, it may have lost its potency.

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If an expired medication is taken, and the patient notices the drug has no effect, the medication should be replaced. Some drugs are probably less likely to be safe if they're expired:. If questions still remain about how to handle an expired medication, it is wise to speak with your pharmacist or physician, who can offer additional information and advice. Drugs Past Their Expiration Date.

Drug Expiration Dates - Are Expired Drugs Still Safe to Take?

The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics. Stability profiles of drug products extended beyond labeled expiration dates. J Pharm Sci ; Simons FER, et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol ; Expiration Dating Extension, U. Accessed May 29, at https: Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances. By clicking Subscribe, I agree to the Drugs. The easiest way to lookup drug information, identify pills, check interactions and set up your own personal medication records.

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This material is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. To view content sources and attributions, please refer to our editorial policy. We comply with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information - verify here. Patients often have questions about drug expiration dates: Can I safely take a medication if it has reached the drug expiration date?