Does Medication Expire?

Written by Ally Streelman
Does Medication Expire

Many of us have medications that have been sitting in the cabinet for years but does medication expire – and how do we know when?

This is a common question, especially for over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol or Advil and sometimes the answer is more difficult than you might think.

So should you dig into that old bottle next time your knee pain rears its ugly head?

Let’s take a look.

When do medications expire?

Most medications come with expiration dates on the bottle or box. And while the expiration date on a carton of milk or package of meat is critically important for your health, the one on your medication bottle may be less so. 

The expiration date does mean something though. This is the date the manufacturer can still guarantee the full potency and safety of the drug. However, studies show that many drugs are still effective and safe to take after this date.

How long does medication last after the expiration date?

So, how long after it expires can you take a tablet of ibuprofen or acetaminophen? According to research, your medicine is likely still safe and effective years after its expiration date. 

One study found that 90% of more than 100 drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, were perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date.

However, not all medications are long-lasting. For instance, If you end up taking old antibiotics, they may be less effective and not treat the infection at hand. This could result in antibiotic resistance, which can be extremely dangerous to your health.

What medications become toxic after expiration?

Not all medications are safe to take after expiration. Some medications can become less potent or grow harmful bacteria after being opened. For these reasons, it’s important to adhere to expiration dates on certain medications. These include: 

  • liquid oral antibiotics
  • medicated eye drops
  • nitroglycerin
  • insulin
  • tetracycline

While intact tablets are typically safe to use, this isn’t the case for some liquid medications. Drugs that exist in solution or that require refrigeration may not be effective enough to treat a condition after expiration.

What happens if you take expired medication?

As long as the medication you are taking isn’t a drug that can become contaminated after it expires, the consequences aren’t dire. However, the more time that has passed since the expiration date, the less effective the drug may be. This may make you feel as though you need to take more of the medication, but it’s critical to avoid this temptation. If the medication isn’t working, dispose of it and replace it with a new medication.

What to do with expired medication

If the expiration date on your medication is long past (3 years or more) or you can see physical signs of decay, it’s time to get rid of it. But there are better ways to dispose of expired or unused medications than simply throwing them in the trash. 

The FDA recommends dropping your medications off at a drug take-back program. Your local pharmacy may offer this option, or you can find a DEA location near you.

For certain dangerous medications, it’s important to dispose of them by flushing them down the toilet or drain. For non-dangerous medications, you can also mix the medicine with dirt, coffee grounds, or another inedible substance. Then place the mixture back in the container or in a plastic bag, and throw it away. This is to prevent children or pets from taking any throw-away medication by accident.    

Elongate the life of your medication

Drugs do lose their potency over time. But you can elongate the life of your medication to prevent waste and save yourself a trip to the pharmacy. If you want your medication to last longer, it’s important to store it properly. How? Here are a few tips: 

  • Keep your medication in a cool place, ideally between 59 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Make sure the place is dry (i.e., a hallway cabinet or dresser drawer, not a bathroom or other humid environment).
  • Consider storing medication in the refrigerator.
  • Tightly close the caps of your medications.
  • Always keep medicine out of reach of children.

If you follow these tips, your medication can remain safe and effective for longer. However, it’s always best to use caution when taking any medication.

Check the expiration date and inspect it for signs of decay before taking it. However, now you know that while medication does expire, many medications are fine to take after their expiration date. 

Questions about medication expiration dates? 

So did your medication expire? If you have a question about a specific medication, or how to dispose of your expired medication, don’t hesitate to reach out to NowRx. Our licensed pharmacists will be happy to answer any questions you have.

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