Should you take that expired medication that’s hiding in the back of your medicine cabinet? Discover whether you’re putting your health at risk when you use old prescriptions.
You can feel that headache coming on, but when you head to the medicine cabinet all you can find is a pain prescription from two years ago. A quick glance at the label shows that it’s expired. Should you take it? Is taking expired medication dangerous?
Chances are good if you take an expired medication, you’ll live to see another day. The expiration date placed on a medication bottle is a date that specifies that the medication will has its full potency if used before that time. Taking an expired medication past the official expiration date means there’s no guarantee that it’ll have its full effect. In other words if you take an expired headache medication past the expiration date, your headache may not get better because the active ingredients have lost their full effectiveness.
In reality, most medications still retain their potency well past the expiration date stamped on the side of the bottle. The FDA conducted a study in 2000 that showed that more than ninety percent of medications still retain their effectiveness as long as fifteen years after their specified expiration date.
What about the issue of safety? Is taking expired medications safe? This really depends on why you’re taking them. If you’re taking a drug to treat a serious heart condition or infection, taking expired medications would be risky because they may have lost some of their original potency and won’t work as effectively.
There are certain medications that should never be taken past their expiration date. These include heart medications, particularly nitroglycerin and blood thinners such as warfarin. Drugs used to treat seizure disorders, diabetes, thyroid disease, and asthma should also not be used past the date stamped on the bottle. In most situations, it’s best to avoid taking expired medications entirely, unless it happens to be an analgesic medication or other drug that’s simply being used to treat a symptom and won’t allow a serious medical condition to go only partially treated.
Keep in mind that the expiration date on a medication is based on the stipulation that the bottle hasn’t been opened. It also assumes that the medication has been properly stored in a dark area without exposure to air or moisture. If improperly stored, medications lose their potency more quickly. For this reason, it’s best to discard any medications that have been opened as soon as the expiration date has past.
The bottom line? Taking expired medications probably won’t kill you, but they may not work as well as ones that haven’t expired. Discard all important medications at the time of their expiration and have a new prescription filled. Why take chances with your health?