We get phones calls every day from folks with questions about expired medications: Can they take a medication if it has reached the expiration date? Are there certain drugs that should never be used past their expiration date? How can they safely dispose of expired medications?
Who decides when a medication is expired? What does "expired" really mean?
According to Drugs.com , the expiration date of a drug is estimated using stability testing under good manufacturing practices as determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). All drugs have unique formulations consisting of active and inactive ingredients geared to treat specific diseases. Once a drug is developed, manufacturers determine the length of time a drug will last without deteriorating; this is known as the drug's shelf-life. If a medication is used within its shelf-life, maximal efficacy and safety of the drug is expected.
Efficacy is the ability of the drug to produce the desired effect. Expired medication may not adequately treat minor conditions (for example, minor headaches or colds) or serious conditions (for example, diabetes or heart disease) because of reduced efficacy. As a consequence, inadequate relief from sickness could eventually lead to longer sick days or otherwise avoidable complications.
The safety of expired medications should also be considered. Medications may change their chemical and physical properties, as is evident when tablets disintegrate and liquids separate into layers, or even change color within the dispensed bottle.
Several independent studies suggest that some drug products may have extended shelf lives beyond their expiration date. However, it is difficult to predict as they are dependent upon the actual drug ingredients, presence of preservatives, temperature fluctuations, light, humidity, and other storage conditions. The expiration date on your prescription label takes these factors into account so you don't have to guess.
So why take the risk?
PROPER DISPOSAL: It is not recommended to flush unused or expired medications down the toilet as they have the possibility of contaminating the water system. In Hillsborough County, HCSO has set up new permanent drop boxes so you can properly dispose of unwanted medications (prescription, over-the-counter, and veterinary) . There are currently 4 drop boxes in Hillsborough County available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Go to the HCSO website to find one near you.