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Drugs Past Their Expiration Date; Are they Safe to use?

You may have wondered whether or not drugs that have passed their expiration date are still save and effective to use. A recent article in The Medical Letter – Volume 51, December 14 2009 reports that Doctors are often asked by their patients if expired drugs can still be taken safely. The answer is entirely dependent on the circumstances of the drug; including what type of drug it is, how it has been stored over a long period of time, and the relative stability of the drug in its original sealed container.

Is expired medication safe to use?

A column published in Pyschopharmacology Today advises that the expiration on a drug is a requirement of a law passed in 1979 where drug manufacturers are required to post an expiration date on their products. This way, the manufacturer can ensure the date at which he can guarantee the full efficiency and safety of the drug. No information on the safety of taking expired drugs has been published. Toxicity due to indigestion, injection, or topical application of drug formulas after their expiration date has not been reported. However, on one occasion it has been reported that the use of degraded tetracycline caused renal tubular damage in a patient. This form of medicine has since been removed from the market. A study conducted by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) requested by the military occurred due to the fact that the military faces tossing out and replacing a large expensive pile of drugs every few years. The study found that 90% of more than 100 different prescription and non-prescription drugs were still safe and effective to use even 15 years after the date of expiration.

Do expiration dates on drugs mean anything?

The Expiration date on the packaging of a drug is based on the stability of the medicine in its original sealed container. The date does not mean that the drug becomes unstable after the indicated date; it means that the drug in its sealed container will still be stable at that point in time. The average expiration date for a drug product in its labeled shelf life is between 1 and 5 years. When the container is opened and used, the expiration date on the container does not apply. The expiration date doesn’t necessarily indicate a time in which the medication is ineffective or unsafe. Medical authorities claim that expired drugs are generally safe to take, with the exception of Tetracycline.

Do drugs still work after their expiry date?

The stability of drug products after their expiration dates have been researched. Information from the Department of Defense/FDA Shelf Life Extension Program has shown that 88% of 3005 lots of 122 drug products stored in their unopened containers remained stable for an average of 66 months after their labeled expiration date. Of these, 18% eventually failed in terms of presence of impurities, pH levels, water content, potency, dissolution or appearance. None failed before one year or expiration, and 312 passed tests for more than 4 years past the expiration date. The original effectiveness of medicine may decrease over time; however a lot of its original potency will still remain after the date of expiration. Excluding nitroglycerin, insulin, and liquid antibiotics, many medications are safe to use due to their long-lasting abilities.

How can I store my medication safely?

Placing a medication in a cool place, such as a refrigerator will help a drug remain potent for many years. However, storing medicine in heat or high humidity can shorten the life of medications. In a published study, certain medicines such as captopril tablets, cefoxitin sodium powder for injection, and theophylline tablets stored under stressful (hot or humid) conditions remained chemically stable after storage for 25 years and remained fully antiviral after boiling and holding at 65 – 85 degrees Celsius for many days. Another study showed that theophylline retained 90% of its potency 30 years after its expiration date.

Can liquid drugs be used after they expire?

Liquid drugs such as solutions and suspensions are generally not as stable as solid forms of medicine. Solution drugs such as injections, which have become cloudy or discolored, should not be used. The EpiPen loses its potency after its expiration date. In a study of 28 EpiPen 0.3 mg and 6 EpiPen 0.15 mg that was conducted 1-90 months after the expiration date on the auto injector labels, the decrease in epinephrine content was proportional to the number of months past its expiration date. Ophthalmic drugs such as Xaltan, the problem might not be with the stability of the drug, but more about the continue ability of the preservative to prevent microbial growth in the solution.
If you have no other alternative to your expired medication and a splitting headache, outdated drugs may work. There are no current reports of toxicity from degrading products available on the market today. If drugs are stored in reasonable conditions in their original unopened containers, they can retain up to 90% of their original potency for 5 years or more past their expiration date. The EpiPen, however, is an important exception.

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