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Should You Take Medications After Their Expiration Dates?

By: | Tags: | Comments: 0 | February 23rd, 2017

Have you ever wondered what the expiration date on your medication means? There are serious implications to using medication that is past its due date, according to an article published in NPR.

Effectiveness is the Issue

“If your medicine has expired, don’t use it,” Ilisa Bernstein, deputy director of the office of compliance in the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research told NPR. This counsel applies to over-the-counter drugs as well as prescription medications. It is important to check the expiration dates before you buy any medication and weigh the date against the time you think you’ll be using the product.

“Once the expiration date has passed,” Bernstein said, “there is no guarantee that the medicine will be safe and effective.”

Storage Impacts Potency

Drugs can lose potency prior to their expiration dates if they are not stored properly, according to Mike Fossler, pharmacist and spokesperson for the American College of Clinical Pharmacology. Humidity and heat can have a negative impact on drug efficacy. Believe it or not, bathroom medicine cabinets (and bathrooms in general) are not the best places to store medication. Steam and heat from showers and sinks can accelerate degradation.

This is important because once a drug loses 10 percent of its potency, it is considered ineffective. Using degraded drugs can not only restrict their effectiveness but can also help the body develop immunities to the medication.

Risk of Developing Resistance

Pharmacist Mohamed Jalloh of the American Pharmacists Association told NPR that the issue of potency and age is particularly concerning regarding antibiotics. If you inadvertently “underdose” yourself by taking antibiotics that aren’t full strength, Jalloh says that you run the risk that the bacteria you’re battling will figure out not only how to defeat this weakened drug, but other antibiotics, too.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that at 2 million people in the U.S. contract bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotics, and least 23,000 people each year in the U.S. die from these infections.

Medications that print an expiration date on labels base these dates on research by manufacturers that have tested the active ingredients in multiple storage environments, temperatures, humidity levels and more to understand how and when the effectiveness of the drugs are compromised. Testing methods are defined by good manufacturing practices as determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Drug products marketed in the U.S. typically have an expiration that extends from 12 to 60 months from the time of manufacturer.

Chronic Illness Considerations

Specific drugs used by people with chronic illnesses that are sensitive to degradation include insulin for diabetes patients, oral nitroglycerin for angina (chest pain) vaccines, biologicals and blood products could also be subject to quick degradation once the expiration date is reached.

The ability for a drug to have an extended shelf life depends on many factors including the actual drug ingredients, the presence of preservatives and storage conditions such as temperature fluctuations, light, humidity, and more.

It is important for people taking medications to treat a serious chronic illness or life-threatening disease to diligently monitor medication expiration dates and storage conditions. If a medication is near or has passed an expiration date, consult your pharmacist or physician to determine whether to take the medication or to ask for a new prescription.

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