Drug Expiration Dates: Can Expired Medication Be Harmful?

Categories: Drug Safety, Online Pharmacy Safety | Posted On:

Does Medicine Expire?

The short answer is: yes. Medication does expire. The long answer, however, depends on what kind of medication you’re taking. 

Most medications come in either capsule or tablet form. Capsules are oblong and feel like plastic on the outside. Tablets are flat on top and feel powdery to the touch. 

Tablets and capsules break down at different rates. Capsules are likely to stay in good condition for longer because the potent part of the medication is protected by an outer shell. 

Tablets, on the other hand, are slightly more fragile and do not stay intact as long. 

Liquid medication is another story entirely. Liquid medications contain more ingredients than pills, and these ingredients all lose potency at different rates. 

In general, it is never 100% safe to take expired medications. However, with pills, there is sometimes less risk. Liquid medications, on the other hand, you should be very careful with. 

The way you store your medication also affects how quickly it expires. Medication should be kept in a dry and moderate environment

Don’t be fooled by the name “medicine cabinet.” Keeping your medications near the steam from your shower might cause them to expire more quickly!

What Do Expiration Dates Really Mean?

On your prescription bottle, you will see an expiration date. That expiration date was determined by the FDA using various forms of testing. 

After the expiration date, your drugs cannot be guaranteed fully effective. However, there is wiggle room, much like there is with expiration dates on some foods. 

If your pills expired a week ago, it is likely safe to take them. If they expired months ago, however, they may no longer be effective. 

Most pills are likely to be safe even after they have expired. They just might not work as well as they normally do. We’ll get into the risks of ineffective medication in a moment. 

For liquid medications, expiration dates should be observed more closely. Insulin, for example, has a variety of different shelf-life limits

Seeing your medication expire can be a drag, especially if it is expensive and you don’t use it all the time. However, the best course of action is to only use drugs that are within their expiration date. 

That is true both because of risks to your health and liability. A drug manufacturer cannot be held responsible for side effects from taking expired medication.

Can You Take Expired Medicine?

Taking expired medication always comes with risks. These risks depend on what medication you’re taking. 

When a medication expires, the chemical compounds in it may change. This can cause unpredictable reactions. You could have a bad reaction to a drug that you previously tolerated because the compounds changed. 

That’s not the only risk of taking expired drugs.

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If you take an expired painkiller and don’t have a bad reaction, then you’re pretty safe. It might not work as well as it could have, but it won’t have any negative repercussions on your body. 

However, if you take expired antibiotics, that is another story altogether. Expired antibiotics will not work and can cause your infection to build up more immunity to antibiotics

Expired medications are also susceptible to bacteria growth, especially if they weren’t stored in a great location. You should do everything you can to avoid putting foreign bacteria into your body.

If you take expired medication and then feel sick, go to the nearest emergency room.

What to Do With Expired Medication

If you have expired medications in your home, make sure you dispose of them properly. You shouldn’t just throw prescriptions away with the rest of your trash. 

Even if you’re throwing away an empty prescription bottle, remove the label first. A prescription label has your name and address on it and can make you a target for future thefts. 

When you need to dispose of a bottle of pills, do so at an approved location. Every year, the DEA coordinates a National Drug Take-Back Day, which is a great opportunity to get rid of your expired drugs. 

A local pharmacy or doctor’s office may also have a designated prescription dropbox that you can use all year round. 

If you cannot dispose of your medications in one of those ways, there are still steps you can take.

Remove your prescription label as always. Then, put your bottle of pills inside another bag containing another type of trash. Garden dirt or kitty litter are two great options for this. 

There are two reasons why it is important to dispose of your drugs discreetly. 

First, it keeps you safe. You never know who might be looking through your trash. If someone sees that you are prescribed a medication with a high street value, they may target you for theft in the future. 

Second, it keeps others safe. Drug addicts may take any pill they can find to get high, without thinking about possible side effects. 

Most Important: Stay Safe

Now that you know more about expired medication, make sure you stay safe. Instead of taking expired drugs, get a safe and affordable prescription refill!

Always remember to keep yourself and others safe by discreetly disposing of expired medicines. 

Don’t take risks with your health. You are too valuable!

About Cary Byrd

eDrugSearch founder, Cary Byrd, has been called an “e-health innovator” by MarketIntellNow, interviewed by top pharmaceutical industry journalists, invited to Matthew Holt’s Health 2.0 Conference and a Consumer Report's health summit, and highlighted on numerous health blogs.

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