Taking Expired Rx Medication – Safe / Unsafe?
Best before dates are what they are. Just suggestions. If you choose to drink milk that’s gone sour in your fridge for a week past its date, you’re free to do that, as inadvisable as it is and how much your tummy will be upset by it. When it comes to prescription medication, they don’t come with best before dates at all. They come with expiry dates, so that means they’re not suggestions as much as they are warnings. But do drug expiration dates tell you that you are NOT to take the medication after that time? Are expired prescription drugs safe to take? What about antibiotics past the expiration date?
These are all inquiries that we will look at here with this entry. We’ll start by saying this, and this is probably the most important takeaway you can have here; taking expired medication won’t put you in danger, but that is true only if you’re continuing to take it as indicated in your prescription. If you take more than you should of any medication – expired or not – then you may be putting your health in danger. Drug expiration dates aren’t intended to show you when a drug becomes dangerous, they are to show you when the medication may start to be ineffective.
This is usually between 1 to 5 years after the medication is dispensed, but generally if you take them after drug expiration dates have passed you won’t necessarily be in danger. You’re more at risk of having the medication not work the way you’re expecting it to. There is more to it though, so if you’re considering finishing medication that has expired and you’re wondering if that is okay then you can continue reading here.
The reason that a pharmacist will tell you not to ignore drug expiration dates is that some drugs have their consistencies change depending on how they are stored. This is the biggest part of the risk, but it doesn’t apply to all drugs. Are expired prescription drugs safe to take? Some are, but some aren’t so why we don’t we get right to listing what those drugs are and what makes them more dangerous than others when they’ve expired.
Drugs you should never take after drug expiration dates have passed:
- Insulin – known to degrade after the expiration date and some constituents in the medication may become harmfully toxic or have other harmful effects
- Angina treatment medications that are NTGs – ones that contain oral nitroglycerin
- Vaccines or any other biologic that may become impure if expired
- Tetracycline antibiotics that may produce toxic metabolites if drug expiration dates are expired
- Injectable medications that have visible cloudy or discolored contaminants in the solution
- Eye drops due to the possibility of active ingredients being irritants if the medication is expired
Another thing to note with drug expiration dates is that medications that require refrigeration for storage should not have taken after drug expiry dates if they have not been refrigerated for anything longer than a short period of time.
With medications like asthma inhalers the expiry date should be heeded, and you shouldn’t use an expired inhaler. This is because expiry dates for these products also take into consideration the fact that the inhaler housing itself may stop working properly too and in rare instances it may be that pressurized CO2 may escape directly from the mouthpiece. Expired asthma inhalers can be returned to the pharmacy for proper disposal, but your pharmacist may also say you can continue to use it if they inspect it first.
Bad Bacteria / Antibiotic Resistance
The next reason you don’t want to ignore drug expiration dates is some medications will have the risk of bacterial growth if they are expired. Oral pediatric antibiotics for infants is one subsection of medications where this risk is more pronounced, and this is truer of the liquid antibiotics as compared to ones dispensed in pill form. In addition, there are some medications that may be structurally altered by long-term exposure to airborne contaminants if their container is not properly sealed. The are some drugs that will interact with oxygen this way.
The last mention around drug expiry dates we’ll make here as it relates to the question of are expired prescription drugs safe to take is this; taking more of drugs than you need to – expired or not – can lead to antibiotic resistance. This is true no matter where the antibiotics come from, and the problem doesn’t stay related to you as when the bacteria become resistant to the antibiotics they become that way for you AND everyone else. This may be another reason to not take expired medication, as we don’t want to have untreatable infections in the future.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The above information is intended to increase awareness of health information and does not suggest treatment or diagnosis. This information is not a substitute for individual medical attention and should not be construed to indicate that use of the drug is safe, appropriate, or effective for you. See your health care professional for medical advice and treatment.