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Are Expired Medications Safe?

All medications, prescription and over-the-counter, come with an expiration date.   For many patients, expiration date questions arise because medications can be expensive, and it is costly to frequently replace expired but unused medications.

What does a drug expiration date mean?

The expiration date is the final day that the manufacturer guarantees the full potency and safety of a medication. Drug expiration dates exist on most medication labels, including prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) and dietary (herbal) supplements. U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers are required by law to place expiration dates on prescription products prior to marketing.

Is medication still effective after its expiration date?

The American Medical Association (AMA) concluded in 2001 that the actual shelf life of some products is longer than the labeled expiration date. These results suggest that many drug products may have extended shelf lives beyond their expiration date.

However, it is difficult for a consumer or health care provider to know which product could have an extended shelf life. A drug’s extended shelf life is dependent upon its ingredients, presence of preservatives, temperature fluctuations, light, humidity, and other storage conditions.

Additionally, once a drug is repackaged into another container, as often happens in the pharmacy, the shelf-life might decline.

Is medication still safe after its expiration date?

Whether or not a specific medication is dangerous after expiration is hard to determine, but why take the risk?

For serious medical conditions, a single dose at lower potency could cause a negative side effect.  While very little research has been done to test the effectiveness and safety of taking expired medications, it’s best practice to dispose of drugs that are past their guaranteed time line.

Expired medications that are kept instead of discarded not only take up space but can actually discourage the appropriate use of new supplies in the treatment of illness.