Are Expired Medicines Safe?

At some point you will find yourself with medicine that has gone past it’s expired date.  If you are contemplating whether to keep it ‘just in case’, please read on.

The expiration date is usually from one to five years from the date it was manufactured.  A law was passed in 1979 that required drug manufacturers to stamp this expiration date. Up until this date the manufacturer guarantees it’s full potency and safety of the drug. After that, the medicine will lose it’s effectiveness and many people may compensate for this by taking more medicine than recommended.  This could result in overdoses and serious health implications.  An example of this could be Iboprufen or cough medicine. Keep in mind that these dates are quite conservative to also allow the manufacturers to bring new and improved medications to market.

Once a drug is put into a pharmacy canister, it is exposed to moisture and air which can denigrate the medication. Your medical condition may change which may require stronger or lower dosage or new potential interactions may be discovered with other drugs. This results in conservative expiry dates to provide an extra level of safety.

Expired Medications To Discard

Other reasons for not taking medication past it’s expiry date concerns Insulin. Insulin is calibrated to your blood sugar and it can lose its ability to regulate resulting in blood sugar becoming too low. Low blood sugar could result in death. If you are taking medication for a heart rhythmic condition and it’s past the expiry date, it could lead to an unstable and dangerous heart problem.

Oral nitroglycerin, vaccines and blood products may lose their potency once the expiration date is reached. Other products that lose their potency include eye drops, refrigerated liquids, specially compounded medication and other injectables. If your medication looks powdery or crumbling, has a strong smell or is dried up, they should be discarded.

You can extend the potency of your medication by proper storage. Your medicine cabinets are not ideal because of heat and humidity. The best way to store them is in dry, cool spaces away from light.

 If your medications have expiry dates beyond a few years and you are questioning it’s effectiveness, check with your local pharmacist or physician to see if it needs replacement. Discard your unused or expired substances like Hydrocodon, Vicodin, Norco or oxycodone as soon as possible.

Expired medicines can also injure children and pets if taken by mistake.

How To Safely Dispose

The best way to dispose of expired medicine is to return them to your local pharmacist or if you would rather throw them in the trash, do the following:

  • Empty them into a zip lock bag containing kitty litter or coffee grounds.  This will prevent animals from ingesting them and will appear unrecognizable for people looking through trash for drugs.

Do not flush them down the toilet or sink.  Let’s do our part to keep the environment safe for us and future generations.

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