While the Food and Drug Administration’s website continues to advise consumers against taking expired drugs, the agency’s own research, according to the Wall Street Journal, has for many years found that most medications retain nearly all of their effectiveness even five years past their expiration dates.
Most Drugs Stay Potent for Decades
A 20-year FDA investigation of 122 medicines found that 88 percent of properly stored drugs maintained effectiveness for an average of five and a half years past their expiration dates. That means that as prescription prices continue to soar, many folks have likely been tossing medicines that they could still use.
A study conducted by a University of California professor found similar results to the FDA’s, with drugs that expired decades ago maintaining most of their potency. The research found that only two drugs – aspirin and amphetamine – consistently lost more than 10 percent of their effectiveness after after several years.
Throwing Money Away
The expiration dates on both prescription and over-the-counter drugs don’t tell you when the drugs will go bad. The FDA requires drug companies to set dates through which medications are guaranteed to retain their full potency. Studies haven’t found any drugs that become toxic or spoil over time, like some expired foods may do.
A doctor interviewed for the WSJ article is cautious about recommending that her patients use expired drugs, and it’s clearly not a good idea to count on expired medications that could mean the difference between life and death. For example, you wouldn’t want to depend on an expired EpiPen for a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, expired insulin for diabetes or expired heart meds for cardiac disease.
Proper Storage is Important
To maintain the highest quality, drugs need to be stored in optimum conditions, a place that’s dark, cool and dry, making the bathroom medicine cabinet an extremely poor place to store meds.
The potential risk from using expired medicine is that it might not be as effective. That expired Tylenol in your drawer, for example, might not relieve your headache as well as a brand new bottle. Research shows, though, that if you’ve kept your headache pills in a cool, dry, dark place, they should work almost as well as the new stuff for a number of years after you buy them.
Pills and capsules are most likely to retain their potency for the longest time. Liquid medications, creams and ointments lose effectiveness more quickly, as do medications that require refrigeration.