Is It Safe to Take Expired Medication?

Is It Safe to Take Expired Medication?

You’ve most likely been in a pinch before where you needed a certain medicine, but what you have at home is expired. Is it safe to take expired medication? Does medicine ever even really expire?

When is it ok?

There are a few factors that determine whether of not it’s okay to take medication past its expiration date. The type of drug, how much time has passed beyond the date and how the medicine has been stored all matter, says David Nierenberg, chief of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. “If you are using something that was a few months or a year after the expiration date, and it had been stored well, for most drugs, I don’t think you have a problem,” Nierenberg told The Huffington Post. “But the companies won’t guarantee it.” This is especially true for over-the-counter medications like aspirin, he explained.

Pharmaceutical companies test a drug’s efficacy and safety for a set period of time ― usually two to three years ― and only if it has been stored properly. Proper storage means the medication has not been exposed to extremely hot or cold temperatures, direct sunlight or heat and moisture. There’s some scientific research that indicates medication may work for a long time following its date. A 2000 study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration found that 90 percent of unused medications stockpiled by the U.S. Military remained completely potent several years past expiration. The findings suggest that drug makers tend to be conservative with expiration dates and raised questions about testing for extended shelf-life, according to the study’s authors.

When is it not ok?

Nierenberg says there are some medications that should always be a hard no once their expiration date has come up. Liquid medicine, in particular, is not safe. This is because the contents of the bottle are sterile until the seal is broken. Once a liquid medication is opened, it becomes very susceptible to bacterial contamination. “That’s especially true of things like liquid eye drops,” Nierenberg said. “That’s why they say never touch the tip of this bottle to your eyelid.”

You should also take expiration dates and storage directions on prescription medications seriously. For example, nitroglycerin tablets. These are usually for those who experience angina or coronary heart disease. Nitroglycerin tablets are extremely susceptible to going bad if they’re in extreme heat. There’s a good chance the drug could deteriorate in the heat and thus make it ineffective.

You should also think about antibiotics the same way, Nierenberg said. If you find leftover antibiotics in your medicine cabinet, there is no way to confirm the medication is still powerful. It’s probably not worth the risk. Should you feel like you need antibiotics or any prescription medicine, consult your doctor.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.

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