We’ve talked on DNews before about food expirations dates or ‘sell by’ dates as they are sometimes called, and we’ve found they’re less like actual rules and more like guidelines. Most food lasts well beyond that date.
But have you ever noticed that medication has an expiration date too? Can you get sicker from expired medicine?
The FDA started slapping an expiration date on medicines in 1979, so it’s been over 30 years since that decision. Has it made a difference? Typically, the expiration date is set a year to five years beyond the date of manufacture. It’s less of an expiration date and more of a date of guaranteed potency.
Basically, after that date, manufacturers can’t guarantee the drug will be 100% potent. It doesn’t necessarily mean it will be unsafe or less effective; there’s some evidence that some medicines can hold their potency for quite a while, especially in controlled conditions.
A study conducted by the FDA on behalf of the Military found ways to extend the life of medicines in storage. In a program called SLEP, or shelf life extension program, they found that they could extend the life of 88% of the drugs in govt facilities by at least a year by simply keeping them in climate-controlled storage.
Most drugs lasted on average five and half years past the expiration date. While civilians like you and I might not have access to tightly controlled storage facilities, there’s always the fridge, which some experts recommend as a cool, dry, place for extending the life of your medication. But maybe drugs last longer than five years even without chilling in the fridge.
One study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine found that some medicines can hold their own for DECADES. They were all 28-40 years past their due date. They only looked at a handful of medicines, 8 different medications with 15 different compounds between them like caffeine, aspirin, or hydrocodone. They found that most, 12 of those compounds, remained at least 90% as effective decades after their expiration date. And that 90% is crucial; that’s the level a drug needs to be considered “effective” by the FDA. So, most of the decades old medicine didn’t lose its potency. Although two medicines, aspirin and amphetamine, seem to lose some of their juice after all that time, they were present in amounts less than 90%.
But before you go popping old pills, the FDA recommends listening to those expiration dates. They caution that drugs gone bad could be “less effective or risky due to a change in chemical composition or decrease in potency.” FDA pharmacist, Lisa Bernstein, straight up says “If your medicine has expired, do not use it.” Especially with lifesaving drugs like an epi-pen. If a drug’s expired, the FDA recommends tossing it.
The best way to dispose of a drug is usually on the bottle, or some cities have prescription medicine take back programs. Investigate that if you’re worried about all the leftover medication in your bathroom cabinet.
So, it seems drugs last longer than their “good by” date, but at the end of the day I’d still listen to the FDA just to be on the safe side.
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