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How Long Are Antibiotics Good For Past the Expiration Date?

How Long Are Antibiotics Good For Past the Expiration Date? Let’s face it, prescriptions can be expensive. That’s why it’s understandable why anyone would be reluctant to toss medications if they’re past the expiration date. So, the question is: how long are antibiotics good for? And can you take expired antibiotics? Keep reading to find out.

What Does the Expiration Date Represent?

Like food and beverage products, prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs have expiration dates. Unlike food and beverage products, however, these expiration dates don’t necessarily mean the same thing. In 1979, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required that drug manufacturers provide an expiration date on their products. The expiration date represents “the date at which the manufacturer can still guarantee the full potency and safety of the drug.”1 According to Pharmacy Times, after their manufacture date, most medicines have expiration dates between 12 to 60 months. However, recent studies suggest that prescription medications like antibiotics and OTC medications can remain stable even beyond the expiration date.

How Long Are Antibiotics Good For Once Expired?

According to the FDA, in order to stay prepared for public health emergencies, governments and even some private sector partners may stockpile medical countermeasures (MCMs). Of course, expiration dates posed a major issue for stockpiled medications. Replacing these drugs would be extremely costly. In light of this issue, the FDA conducted further testing. They recognized that “certain products remain stable beyond their labelled expiration dates when properly stored.”2 That’s where the Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP) comes into play. Administered by the US Department of Defense, SLEP was established in 1986. Its purpose is to extend the expiration date of select medical products after they go through periodic stability testing. A study by the FDA revealed that “90% of more than 100 drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, were perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date.”3 How long are antibiotics good for? Another study by Cantrell and colleagues tested the effectiveness of eight medications. These medications had been expired for at least 28 to 40 years. Each of the medications contained 15 different active ingredients and all weren't opened. However, the group did not test one of the active ingredients, homatropine, as there was no standard for analysis4. The study discovered that “12 of the 14 drug compounds tested (86%) were present in concentrations of at least 90% of the labeled amounts” for at least 336 months5. To put this into perspective, the FDA allows “reasonable variation”. This is only as long as “most medications marketed in the United States contain 90% to 110% of the amount of the active ingredient claimed on the label.”6

Can You Take Expired Antibiotics?

Research does support that prescription and OTC drugs can still retain their potency well beyond the expiration date. However, there should be some level of caution. Keep in mind that these studies had samples that were stored in proper conditions. These drugs were also in their original containers. According to Dr. Robbe C. Lyon, the FDA’s deputy director of product quality research, consumers should still pay attention to expiration dates. This is because SLEP’s finding only applied to “drugs stored in the original containers under ideal conditions.”7 He explained that once someone opens the container, antibiotics and other drugs are exposed to unpredictable environments. This makes it “difficult to predict the drug’s effectiveness.”8 Can you take expired antibiotics? It’s true that “storage in high heat or humidity can accelerate the degradation of some drug formulations.” 9 However, various studies have shown that certain drugs have retained their potency and stability well beyond the expiration dates. One such study examined captopril tablets, theophylline tablets, and cefoxitin sodium power for injection. These medications were stored at 40 degrees Celsius with a humidity level of 75%. The study found that these drugs remained stable for around 1.5 years to 9 years past the expiration dates10. Furthermore, The Medical Letter notes that “there are no published reports of human toxicity due to ingestion, injection, or topical application of a current drug formulation after its expiration date.”

Final Word

So, how long are antibiotics good for past the expiration date? The short answer is that they can be stable and retain full potency for some time beyond the expiration date if you've stored them in ideal conditions. However, the main question is: can you take expired antibiotics? Until there is further research on the safety and efficacy of antibiotics and other drugs past the expiration date, we’d advise to err on the safe side. It's best to visit your doctor and to avoid self-dosing with expired medication. If you are looking for an alternative to expensive medications, be sure to browse our sections for prescription drugs and discounted OTC drugs. We also have affordable pet medications to keep every member of your family healthy! Remember, the best way to avoid prescription drugs altogether is simply to prevent illness. Take a look at these 7 ways to have a healthier and longer life. And don’t forget to follow these tips to create a healthy lifestyle today as well!

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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.


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