Not too long ago, US government required pharmaceutical manufacturers to place an expiration date on their medications. The drug manufacturers embraced this requirement, since it added to their bottom line.
There are three cogent questions that should be asked:
- Can outdated medications cause direct harm?
- Do medications become ineffective after their expiration date?
- How do you dispose of unwanted medication?
Most sites mention only two medications that can become dangerous as they age, tetracycline, and diclofenac. Neither finding is for certain, but its best not to take these medication‘s if outdated.
Everything degrades with time, and medications are no exception. Those that are compressed into tablets and kept in the dark and dry tend retain potency longer than those in liquid form. Certain medications, such as nitroglycerin and epinephrine are quite prone to oxidation; epiPen, In ready-to-inject needles, in particular should be fresh; Biologics in general should be current. Drugs that are exposed to water, warm or humid conditions, or that are crumbly or have an odor should obviously be discarded. Liquid medication’s of all types, such as eyedrops, should be carefully stored and within their expiration date. One of my eye medications, latanoprost, requires refrigeration, a sure sign of instability.
That being said, the US Army found that 90% of 100 medication‘s were still effective 5 to 20 years after their expiration date. Another study found that some retain their efficacy even after 10 to 40 years.
Another factor to consider is the danger of the disease that is being treated. If you have such things as heart disease, or a severe infection, You should exert greater care.
If you plan to get rid of medication, look around for an organization willing to accept them; Developing countries are looking for such medication.
Avoid flushing medication down the toilet, since it may enter the environment and be harmful to the ecosystem. Ideally it should be packaged in a container that is difficult to get into, so that children and other individuals may not have access; almost all medications are dangerous if taken in large amounts.
A lot of information is available on the Internet, with a variable amount of suggested precautions, depending upon the site.
I am a physician, and have taken many outdated medications In a pinch, but if I plan taking them for an extended time I usually get a new prescription.