8 Facts about Expired Medications

8 Facts about Expired Medications – April, 2017

Yes, it’s fine to take medications long after their expiration date, especially if they’ve been stored properly. That date is only for legal liability purposes.

Many medications are very expensive and people hate to waste them. To avoid a costly visit to the doctor for a new prescription, many people have to consume expired drugs.

Physicians and pharmaceutical companies, because of legal restrictions and liability concerns, will not sanction such use and may not even comment on the safety or effectiveness of using their products beyond the date on the label.  

1. What does Expiration Date mean? 

The expiration date, required by law in the United States, beginning in 1979, indicated the date the manufacturer guarantees the full potency and safety of the drug.

At the time of the medication expiry date, the drug must be at least 90% of the original potency under proper storage conditions.

The expiration date does NOT indicate a point when a medication loses potency and is no longer effective or becomes harmful.

In general, drugs expiration date is 2-5 years from production date. FDA regulations do not require manufacturers to determine actual long-term drug potency and stability. For example, if a company chooses a three year expiration date, it does not have to test beyond that for prolonged effectiveness.

2. Potency and Efficacy.

Medication’s potency gradually decreases starting from the moment of it’s manufacture. This process is not in anyway spontaneous after the expiry date.

The expiration date is only an assurance that the labeled potency will last at least until that date

The best evidence of acceptable potency of the medications beyond their expiration date is provided by the Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP) undertaken by the FDA for the Department of Defense.

The aim of the SLEP program was to reduce medication costs for the military. SLEP has found that 88% of 122 different drugs stored under ideal conditions should have their expiration dates extended more than 1 year, with an average extension of 66 months, and a maximum extension of 278 months.

Recently researchers investigated samples of 8 medications that had expired 28 to 40 years earlier and contained 15 different active ingredients in all.

The active ingredients tested for were: aspirin, amphetamine, phenacetin, methaqualone, codeine, butalbital, caffeine, phenobarbital, meprobamate, pentobarbital, secobarbital, hydrocodone, chlorpheniramine, and acetaminophen.

The results showed that 11 (79%) of the 14 drug compounds were always present in concentrations of at least 90% of the amount indicated on the drug label, which is generally recognized as the minimum acceptable potency.

3. Safety and Toxicity.

Contrary to common belief, there is little scientific evidence that expired drugs are toxic.

There are virtually no reports of toxicity from degradation products of outdated drugs.


8 thoughts on “8 Facts about Expired Medications

  1. Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA

    As a general rule this is true for solid pills that have not been exposed to direct light, sustained temperatures above 25°C/77°F, or humidity exceeding 45%. Any or all of these conditions can degrade quality and effectiveness of many drugs. Liquids/capsules/gelcaps can expedience degradation much more quickly than solid pressed tablets. Injectables such as epinephrine and naloxone should be examined for color and clarity changes if stored past their expiration date or at high temperatures. As you wrote here, the main problem is not toxicity but ineffectiveness, particularly in dosage forms other than solid tablets. Many of these liquids/capsules/gels do degrade in suboptimal storage conditions, so they may not be effective. While I myself do use meds that are “expired,” I am careful to check for signs such as discoloration and caking, which indicate that the drug may no longer be potent.

    “If in doubt, throw it out!”


    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      …except when it’s an opioid pain medication (solid pill). Those seem to age well and hold their potency for decades.

      No way would I throw out any of these precious pills, no matter how old they are!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA

        Right. Solid tablets are usually good for a long time. Opioids do not degrade appreciably. I have a sample bottle of Lortab that I keep in my flight emergency kit. It “expired” in 1989….but when I broke my wrist while traveling in India in 2010, I opened the still-sealed bottle, found the tablets pristine, and was very glad to have them! (Not a big opioid consumer, clearly)


  2. Emily Raven

    Thankyou. Never one to throw anything away I try to use up random stuff like Advil I find in the medicine cabinet from when I had dental work. I hit Google and came across a bunch of pearl clutching “ohh but it turns toxic” yet could find no such thing about the individual chemicals within the tablet.

    Still I has a mild paranoia of “what if” because the last thing I wanted was to go to the ER with an ulcer and explain THAT but the rational part of my brain always figured that it being safe was the case and confirmed it.


    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      Me too – never throw meds out, just in case…

      I’ve always believed that most drugs wouldn’t deteriorate so quickly, so Im now vindicated :-)

      My body is so messed up and weird with bizarre responses to medication, so I’m not even sure I would know if the medication had become toxic and I was having the effects of it :-)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The Myth of Drug Expiration Dates | EDS and Chronic Pain News & Info

  4. taylo138

    My brother goes on mission trips in South America & Haiti.
    He packs common analgesics like Tylenol & Motrin. The authorities will NOT allow doctors or nurses to bring expired drugs into the country. Despite being unopened and labeled, extremely poor clinics cannot stock these drugs.
    The dates need to be changed or the government needs to give some guidance about how long after the expiration date drugs can be dispensed.
    Millions of dollars in pharmaceuticals are disposed of yearly and it’s a sin that even the poorest in our world can’t use them.

    Liked by 1 person


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