Expired Drugs: 6 Things to Know

Image credit: 

I was recently doing some research online about expired Advil. My wife and I noticed our bottle in the medicine cabinet had expired a year ago and were wondering if it was still effective. Turns out, there are many varying opinions on the subject. Some "experts" insist that most medications, especially if kept in the fridge, will last a good 10 years beyond their expiration date. Then you have the Pittsburgh Poison Control Center of The Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh warning: "Medications that have passed their expiration can pose a significant risk to children."

So who to believe?

Well, here are some interesting thoughts/facts I tracked down on the subject:

1. The expiration date printed on the bottle has only been a law in the United States since 1979.
2. A drug maker is required by law only to prove a drug is still good on whatever expiration date the company chooses to set. The expiration date doesn't mean the drug will stop working or become potentially harmful after it expires.
3. Liquid drugs are less stable than tablet/powder/capsule medications.
4. An interesting study was completed by the US military some 20 years ago, according to a piece in the Wall Street Journal by Laurie P. Cohen. It seems the military was sitting on a $1 billion stockpile of drugs and facing the daunting process of destroying and replacing its supply every 2 to 3 years, so it began a testing program to see if it could extend the life of its inventory. The testing, conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), ultimately covered more than 100 drugs, prescription and over-the-counter. The results showed that about 90% of them were safe and effective as far as 15 years past their original expiration date. (quoted from the Cohen piece)
5. Tetracycline type antibiotics and some seizure medications can cause toxicity if taken after they expire.
6. I wound up taking the expired Advil and it worked perfectly fine. My muscle pain went away and I lived to write about it. Placebo effect? I doubt it. Still, I wouldn't recommend taking expired drugs without consulting your doctor. Advil is Advil, antibiotics and serious meds are another thing altogether.

More from mental_floss...

October 2, 2008 - 1:22am
webby
submit to reddit