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Can you use medications past their expiration date?

Kelley-Ross Pharmacy GroupAsk The PharmacistCan you use medications past their expiration date?
31
Jan
2022
31.01.2022

How important is the expiration date on your medication bottle? A lot of us will look at expiration dates on food as more of a suggestion than a rule. If it passes the sniff test and there’s no visible mold growing, it’s fine right? Maybe not. But how do expiration dates apply to medications when the pills that have spent years in your cupboard look the same as the ones fresh from the store?

How do medications expire?

Most medications are made up of active and inactive components. The inactive parts are, in part, meant to stabilize the active components. The active parts can be complex and sometimes unstable, meaning that with time and exposure to outside factors such as heat, light, or water they’ll break down and no longer be able to perform the job they’re designed to do. This process happens over time, meaning that the medication will gradually lose active components and become less and less effective.

What does the expiration date mean?

The expiration date is the date by which the manufacturer can still guarantee the full potency and safety of the drug. These tend to be conservative estimates to be safe as there is evidence that a lot of medications will still be good months to several years past their posted expiration date. For proper storage, keep your medications away from heat, light, and humidity. Any bathroom that has a shower is generally not a good place to keep your medications.

Are expired medications safe to take?

Depending on the medication, it could be. There are very few products currently on the market that produce actively harmful chemicals when they start to degrade. Of course as mentioned, medications get less effective as they degrade and not getting the full dose can be dangerous for some medications that require a specific amount to be in the body.  For example, if the medication is for a potentially serious medical condition such as a blood thinner for stroke prevention, you could be putting your life in danger by taking expired medication. If you find yourself questioning whether a medication would be safe to take expired, it’s probably best to play it safe and dispose of it or ask your pharmacist.

How do I dispose of my medications?

Look up your nearest medication drop box: https://med-project.org/. Or check out a previous blog post on the subject for more details: https://www.kelley-ross.com/safe-disposal-medicine/.

Prepared by Max DeMeritt, PharmD Candidate 2022

References

  1. Drugs Past Their Expiration Date. 2016;315(5):510–511. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.0048 https://jamanetwork-com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/journals/jama/fullarticle/2484679
  2. Gikonyo, Dan et al. “Drug expiry debate: the myth and the reality.” African health sciences 19,3 (2019): 2737-2739. doi:10.4314/ahs.v19i3.49 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7040264/
  3. Lyon, R.C., Taylor, J.S., Porter, D.A., Prasanna, H.R. and Hussain, A.S. (2006), Stability profiles of drug products extended beyond labeled expiration dates. J. Pharm. Sci., 95: 1549-1560. https://doi-org.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/10.1002/jps.20636
  4. Cantrell L, Suchard JR, Wu A, Gerona RR. Stability of Active Ingredients in Long-Expired Prescription Medications. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(21):1685–1687. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.4501 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1377417
  5. Faez Alnahas, Prince Yeboah, Louise Fliedel, Ahmad Yaman Abdin, Khair Alhareth. Expired Medication: Societal, Regulatory and Ethical Aspects of a Wasted Opportunity. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Feb; 17(3): 787. Published online 2020 Jan 27. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17030787

Kelley-Ross is an independently owned corporation operating 4 pharmacies in Seattle. Kelley-Ross provides a wide range of pharmacy services, including prescription dispensing, compounding, medi-set packaging, compliance packaging, long-term care facility services, consultant pharmacist services, immunizations and a variety of health screenings.

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Our high service level and commitment to problem solving has made Kelley-Ross the pharmacy of choice for patients and providers across the Northwest.