Have you ever been guilty of this? You have a headache, a cold, or a cough. You rush to the medicine cabinet to grab an analgesic or cold medication to relieve your achy head or a runny nose and, lo and behold, the expiration date says it expired three years ago!
What did you do? Did you take it or flush it? If you took it anyway, you’re in good company, surveys show people take expired medications a lot. Taking expired medication is pretty common, but the question is whether it’s smart.
What Does the Expiration Date Mean?
Let’s look at the expired medication issue more closely. The FDA first required medication makers to post an expiration date in 1979. Before that time, medications didn’t have an expiration date. Does that mean an expiration date isn’t THAT important? After all, it took a long time to require an expiration date.
The reason expiration dates came into being is the result of a study by the Food and Drug Administration. The military had accumulated a huge stockpile of medications and didn’t like the idea of throwing them out after a year or two. Not only is tossing them costly, they need to be disposed of properly.
Probably some of you feel like that too. Medications are NOT cheap. So, a team of researchers monitored the potency of the military’s medications over many years. What they found was 90% of the medications they tested, both prescription and non-prescription, still retained their potency 15 years after the expiration date expired.
Fifteen years? That’s pretty awesome, right? While 90% is a hefty percentage, that still leaves 10% that DID lose some of their potency.
Sometimes the medication is even tougher than the illness – Sanya-Richards Ross
The expiration date on most medications is between 12 and 60 months, but, as the above study shows, a drug doesn’t magically lose its potency the day after it expires. It’s a slow process that occurs over years for MOST medications.
In fact, the expiration date on a medication is a GUARANTEE that the medication, stored under proper conditions, will retain at least 90% of its potency before the expiration date. That doesn’t mean the potency will take a nosedive once that date arrives, it will be a gradual process.
Is It Safe to Take Expired Medications?
It’s helpful to know that most medications retain their potency even after they expire – but what about safety? These studies didn’t address the safety issue – only potency or how much of the active ingredients remained.
Remember, medications are usually a mixture of a variety of chemicals with different properties. Over time, chemical reactions can take place that create new compounds. How stable medications are and how resistant they are to reacting with each other depends on the particular medication, the length of time that’s passed as well as exposure to light, humidity, temperature extremes, and air.
If you store medications in an area where they’re exposed to light or heat, they’re more likely to react with each other and potentially form unhealthy compounds. That’s why many medications and supplements come in dark bottles that minimize exposure to light.