Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is it ok to take expired medication? - from Nate in Maine

We've all been there before. Late at night, headache comes on, we open our medicine cabinet and find aspirin or ibuprofen that expired 2 years ago. Do we take the old medication, run to the 24-hour pharmacy in the middle of the night, or just suffer through it until morning?
Drug companies are required to put expiration dates on their products. That is the date until which the company guarantees efficacy and safety. After that, no such guarantee. The U.S. Military did a huge study on drug expiration dates because they realized that they were throwing away huge amounts of drugs every 2 to 3 years. They found that 90% of their medications remained safe and effective for 15 years past their expiration date! That old ibuprofen or aspirin is going to work for you just fine. Most drugs degrade very, very slowly if stored at room temperature and at worst you will just take a pill that does nothing.  The exceptions are possibly the antibiotic tetracycline, hormones like insulin and epinephrine (used for severe allergic reactions, etc.) and liquid medications. Liquid medications break down faster than the typical dry pills. However, if your symptoms are severe or dangerous, get a new prescription from the doc or make a pharmacy trip. Also, never share your prescription drugs with other people and dispose of old prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs at special "drop sites" where they are safely destroyed. Do not flush them down the toilet or throw them away, as those drugs can end up in the water supply and even now we can detect low levels of pharmaceuticals in many water supplies.

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