Do Medications Really Expire?

Do Medications Really ExpirePeople often wonder about the expiration dates they see printed on the labels of over-the-counter and prescription medications, as well as dietary supplements. Suppose, one night, you find yourself coughing uncontrollably and can’t get to sleep because of it. Would it be safe to take a spoonful of that cough syrup you found at the back of your kitchen cabinet – the one you bought last year? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is yes. Here’s why:

  • The expiration date that is required by law to be included on drug packaging actually refers to the final day that the manufacturer will guarantee the full potency of the drug. Contrary to popular belief, it is not an indication of how long the drug will remain safe or effective for use.
  • The American Medical Association and other medical authorities have confirmed the safety of using many medications after their expiration dates have passed.
  • Over time, expired drugs can lose potency. Nevertheless, many drugs still retain a high percentage of their original potency, even up to 10 years beyond their expiration dates. Of course, proper storage can help keep medications stable, so it’s best to avoid storing them in places like humidity-prone bathrooms and hot cars.

In general, drugs that come in solid form, such as tablets and capsules, remain the most stable after their expiration dates. On the other hand, medications that require refrigeration or are supplied in solutions or reconstituted suspensions, such as amoxicillin suspension, are more likely to lose potency when “outdated.” If an expired medication looks cloudy, has formed a precipitant, has a strong odor, or has dried up, it should be discarded.

Here’s the takeaway: Certain medications are essential for treating chronic or potentially life-threatening conditions, such as seizures, diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and severe allergies. Others drugs, such as eye drops, contain preservatives. If the expiration date on any of these types of medications has passed, you should dispose of the expired drug and obtain a refill. Conversely, for non-life-threatening conditions such as headaches, hay fever, mild pain, and the common cold, you can usually go ahead a take an expired medication. If it proves to have limited or no therapeutic value, you can always toss it and buy some more.

If you would like to consult with a physician about how to handle an expired medication, or for any other reason, please feel free to contact or visit South Tampa Immediate Care. At our walk-in clinic, you will be seen by a qualified doctor who has years of experience in identifying and treating many common illnesses and injuries, and no appointment is necessary.