Everything unfortunately expires, including drugs both prescription drugs and OTC meds (over the counter meds). A 1979 law required all pharmaceutical and OTC producers to label their products with a date they would guarantee potency. Guess what? Their incentive is to sell you medicine, so? Sounds like the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse.
The military stockpiles a large amount of medicine in case it rapidly becomes needed and over time they became concerned about the cost of expiration dates. They commissioned a study by the FDA to determine how long meds actually lasted. The study showed almost all meds were just as good as when manufactured after 15 years!¹
Another report examined potencies of over 3,000 lots of 122 medications to see if different time of manufacture made a difference. They found that the average time beyond the expiration dates before any drop in potency could be detected was over 5 and 1/2 years.² Much more impressive, a researcher found 14 meds that were expired 28 to 40 years in a retail pharmacy in original, unopened containers. When these meds were tested for potency, strength was maintained to at least 90% levels of the original prescription.³ There is a general consensus among experts that storing meds in the refrigerator further extends usefulness. There are a few exceptions: nitroglycerin, insulin, and liquid meds. Tetracycline, the antibiotic, questionably becomes toxic. However, the tetracycline toxicity was from a discontinued preparation and no other reports of harm from taking outdated drugs are available.4 Have we all been throwing away perfectly good meds because we are being fed lies?—no, because we are not informed, which is what we need to make correct choices.
An additional consideration that I have is taking medicine newly on the market on a long-term basis. In Canada, about one-fourth of newly released medications are recalled because of side effects.5 If a medicine has been on the market for years, I am reassured that long-term use is safe, which is another benefit of generics. They have been available for at least 17 years, which is the length of a patent’s protection.
1. Drug Expiration Dates – Do They Mean Anything? In. http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update1103a.shtml: Harvard Health Publications 2003.
2. Lyon RC, Taylor JS, Porter DA, Prasanna HR, Hussain AS. Stability profiles of drug products extended beyond labeled expiration dates. Journal of pharmaceutical sciences 2006;95:1549-60.
3. Cantrell L, Suchard JR, Wu A, Gerona RR. Stability of active ingredients in long-expired prescription medications. Arch Intern Med 2012;172:1685-7.
4. Pierson JC. Let’s put an expiration date on the current approach to drug expiration dates. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2014;71:193-4.
5. Bailey DG. Grapefruit-medication interactions. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne 2013;185:507-8.