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The Rx for Expired Medication

June 15, 2018

You suspect you have an infection, and there are leftover antibiotics in your medicine cabinet. Is it OK to take them, even if they are past their expiration date?

“Aside from the fact that it’s not a good idea to diagnose your own symptoms and take prescription medication before consulting a doctor, there is no way to guarantee a medication is safe and effective past its expiration date,” says Heidi Hornstein, PharmD, BCPS, clinical pharmacist and co-chair of the Medication Management Committee for Overlook Medical Center.

Indeed, the FDA does not require pharmaceutical companies to test the long-term efficacy of medicines past their designated expiration date, so the shelf life of most products is unknown. According to Hornstein, some medications like liquid antibiotics are not as stable as solid dosage forms past their expiration date.

Others – like insulin and nitroglycerin – quickly lose their potency and could have serious consequences if consumed past their shelf life. Even an aspirin taken daily to prevent stroke could be less potent (and less effective) if it’s outdated.

When in Doubt, Throw It Out

“Clean out your supply of prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines on a regular basis, just as you would clean out your pantry or refrigerator,” Hornstein advises. “Toss out expired medications and replenish them before you are tempted to take them in a pinch.” Project Medicine Drop – operated by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs – allows consumers to dispose of unused and expired medications anonymously, seven days a week, 365 days a year, at drop boxes located at participating police departments.

Keep Medicines Out of the Medicine Cabinet

The best way to keep medicines safe and effective up to their expiration date is to store them properly. Follow storage instructions on the label. Some medicines need to be refrigerated, and most cannot be exposed to heat or humidity – the conditions that exist in a bathroom medicine cabinet. It’s best to store medicines in a cool, dry place such as a dresser drawer, closet shelf or high kitchen cabinet to prevent access by children or others who may be tempted to misuse prescription drugs.

When it comes to managing medication, the old cliché “better to be safe than sorry” may be the best prescription.