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Drug Expiration Dates — Do They Mean Anything?

Do Drugs Expire, medical expiration
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When you open your medicine cabinet, do you pay attention to the expiration dates? Do you discard expired medicine bottles right away? Or if you have a splitting headache, and all you can find is a bottle more than a year out of date, do you still take it?

Can expired medicine help you? Can it harm you? What does the expiration date even mean?

Let’s find out.

FDA Study Gets To The Heart Of Expired Medicine And Safety

If you have expired medicine at home, you are not alone. It is a dilemma many people face.

Should we throw out expired medicine that we paid good money for but never finished on time? An article published in Psychopharmacology Today provides some advice. (1)

According to the article, the expiration dates on medicine bottles mean something, but not what you think they mean. In 1979, a law was passed to require drug manufacturers to stamp an expiration date on their bottles. The goal was to guarantee the full potency and safety by that date. It makes sense and makes you feel better when taking medication.

According to a study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at the request of the military, drugs may not actually expire for much longer.

Expired Medicine May Be Good For Years After The Expiration Date

The military tosses out and replaces a large stockpile of expensive drugs yearly. However, it turns out that 90% of over 100 prescription and over-the-counter medications are perfectly safe and good to use for up to 15 years after the expiration date.

It looks like the expiration date doesn’t indicate the true point when the drug is no longer safe or effective. Expired medicine is safe to take for years after the expiration date with a few exceptions: insulin, nitroglycerin, and liquid antibiotics are not as long-lasting.

While the effectiveness of medication does decrease over time, it doesn’t do so quickly. They can be just as good a decade later. Keeping drugs in a cool place or even in refrigeration can greatly help to preserve their potency.

It looks like it is just a marketing strategy to make you spend more money by restocking your medicine cabinet yearly. Sure, if you want to be super safe, the expiration date is a very conservative way to ensure that. However, it turns out there is no need to toss an item that is only a few months or a year of the date. If it is a few years out of date or wasn’t stored properly, it may be a good idea to think again before taking it.

Do You Really Need All This Medicine In Your Cabinet?

However, if you haven’t finished a bottle of Tylenol in the past let’s say five years, you may want to reconsider buying it again. If you never use it because natural alternatives work just as effectively and through a healthy lifestyle you’ve been able to keep all the pains away, there is a high chance you don’t actually need it in your cabinet at all. You may either consider buying a very small bottle, just in case, or not restocking it at all. You can always buy some if you ever really need it.

Remember, this study was done on pharmaceutical drugs. It may not be true for natural supplements you are taking. Always listen to your intuition and use common sense before taking any medication and supplement. Store any drugs or supplements as directed.

Do you replace your medicine cabinet yearly? Have you ever taken expired medication? Share your answers with us. We would love to hear from you.

References:

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/drug-expiration-dates-do-they-mean-anything
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