Does Medication Expire? Here’s What You Need To Know

Written by Ally Streelman

NowRx Pharmacy

Does Medication Expire

Many of us have medications that have been sitting in the cabinet for years past their expiration date. But do these medications actually expire and what happens if you take the medication past its expiration date?

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as straightforward as a simple yes or no. Here we’ll provide a brief guide to help you determine whether or not you should dig out that old bottle next time your knee pain rears its ugly head. However, keep in mind that if there is ever any question regarding the safety of an expired medication, then it is better to err on the side of caution and dispose of it properly.

With that said – let’s jump in and take a look at what you need to know!

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 does medication last after the expiration date? According to research, your medicine is likely still safe and effective years after its expiration date. 

In fact, 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.

Another important thing to keep in mind is the difference between medications and prescriptions. While some medications are good long after the expiration date, how long a prescription is good for depends on the state you are in applicable law in that area.

What medications become toxic after expiration?

There are several medications that become toxic after expiration and are not safe to take. For these reasons, it’s important to adhere to the 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. Check with your doctor or a trusted healthcare professional if you have any questions about a specific medication.

Does Tylenol expire?

Tylenol does expire, and there is no guarantee that the medication will be safe or effective past the expiration date. However, at least one study conducted by the American Medical Association shows that 88% of the drugs tested were good for at least 1 year beyond their expiration date. Unfortunately, there was a great deal of variability in this additional stability period between medications. According to the AMA, periodic testing and evaluation is the only way to assure stability and quality.

Can you take expired Tylenol?

According to their official site, it is not recommended to take expired Tylenol. However, some research suggests that taking expired Tylenol is safe and even effective for many years after the expiration date when it has been stored correctly. In other words, expired Tylenol might not always work, but it is unlikely to hurt you. Ultimately, it is a personal choice, but it is typically better to err on the side of caution and dispose of expired medication.

Does Ibuprofen expire?

Ibuprofen does expire, but it is not necessarily unsafe to use after the expiration date printed on the box. The expiration date on a bottle of ibuprofen is the date the manufacturer can guarantee it is still fully potent and effective. However, some research shows that when stored under optimal conditions, many drugs retain 90% of their potency for at least five years after the labeled expiration date. This is especially true for drugs in tablet or capsule forms, such as ibuprofen.

Can you take expired ibuprofen?

It is not recommended to take expired ibuprofen. According to the official site for Advil, a name brand of ibuprofen, the product can lose its potency past the expiration date. In addition, there is a risk of change to the medication’s chemical composition if it has not been stored correctly. In other words, you might not get the right amount of active ingredients if you take the medication when it has expired. Since this can lead to unintended consequences such as taking too much ibuprofen, it is typically better to err on the side of caution and dispose of expired medication.

What happens if you take expired medication?

If you take expired medication, you should be fine as long as it isn’t a drug that becomes toxic after expiration. 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. This is the ideal way to dispose of medications and should always be the first option.

In some cases, medications may be disposed of by flushing them down the toilet. However, this should not be your first option and you should always check the FDA flush list before disposing of any medications in this manner. Flushing medications not included on this list can negatively impact the environment and present a potential safety hazard to the community.

Alternatively, for certain non-dangerous medications, it may be ok to throw them in the trash. Just be sure to mix the medicine with dirt, coffee grounds, or another inedible substance to prevent children or pets from accidental consumption.

If you have additional questions take a look at our guide on how to dispose of expired medication.

How To Extend the Shelf Life Of Medication

Drugs do lose their potency over time. But you can extend the shelf 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. 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. 

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