Is It OK to Take Expired Medications?

You’ve likely been there: You have a splitting headache, and you reach for an over-the-counter pain reliever only to notice the expiration date on the bottle has passed. Do you take that medication anyway?

Paul Gipps, M.D., a geriatrician and internal medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care in Pinecrest, says in many cases, it may be OK for you to take that expired acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin. It may not work as well as it did within the first year or two of its lifetime, but it won’t harm you. That’s not true for all medications, however.

“It really depends on the type of medication we’re talking about,” he said. “Most over-the-counter medications maintain their potency and likely have a longer shelf life than their expiration date indicates.”

Testing of Military Stockpiles

In fact, according to an FDA study of military stockpiles of medications, 90 percent of 100 drugs tested retained their effectiveness as much as 15 years beyond their stated expiration date, as reported by Harvard Medical School. But, it’s important to note that these were unopened medications, and strict storage guidelines were followed.

Expiration Date Regulations

So, you may wonder why expiration dates are even given.

A 1979 regulation, written in the Code of Federal Regulations, requires drug manufacturers to list a date at which they can no longer guarantee a drug’s effectiveness. Many drug makers, then, take a conservative approach to labeling. That means most medications will stay effective well after their stated dates.

Expired Medications to Avoid

But, Dr. Gipps cautions his patients against using life-saving medications, such as nitroglycerin and epinephrine injectors for anaphylactic allergic reactions, beyond their expiration dates.

“These medications must be at their most potent level, as determined by their expiration dates, to ensure they will work as they should,” he said. “I’ve had patients use expired nitroglycerin tablets for chest pains and have ended up in the ER.”

Dr. Gipps also warns patients not to take antibiotics beyond their expiration date.

“The less effective these are in fighting your infection, the longer you’ll have to take them, setting up potential resistance to them,” he said.

Proper Storage

Another pitfall to avoid when it comes to medications is improper storage, which has been found to diminish some drugs’ effectiveness, Dr. Gipps explains.

“It’s best to follow the manufacturer’s storage instructions,” he said. “It’s probably not a good idea to keep medications in your car, for example.” Some experts also recommend not storing medications in a medicine cabinet in the warm, damp bathroom or in the kitchen, where temperatures can also fluctuate.

Simple Solution

Dr. Gipps tells his patients, if a medication is expired, it’s best to replace it with a newer batch. Then, you can rest assured, you’re getting the safest, most effective dosage for your needs.

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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