Should you use expired medicine?

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HARTFORD — We all have them: medications in our drawers that expired but we still keep them around and wonder if we should take them. We don’t want to waste them but we also want to be safe.

Manufacturers affirm that a drug stored properly will have at least 90 percent of its initial potency when the expiration date comes. Some may have 99 percent potency and others barely 90 percent. In one large assessment, 122 medications (tablets and capsules) were stored under ideal conditions and 88 percent of them were still at least 90 percent potent a year after expiration. That means that 12 percent of them were delivering less than 90 percent potency a year later. So, there is good reason to believe that many drugs are still good for a couple of years after their expiration date but you do take a risk that you are getting a substandard effect if you take them.

  • Oral Liquids or Injectables: If your drug comes as a liquid (solution or suspension) or is injected, adhere to the expiration date. Drugs you put in your eye or inject in your body need not only good potency but also sterility (a lack of bacteria or mold) and using expired drugs is risky.
  • Serious Diseases: If your risk of harm without the drug or side effects with the drug is high, adhere to the expiration dates. Some examples include drugs for heart disease, epilepsy, asthma, anaphylaxis, oral contraception, or thyroid disorders.
  • The Pills Don’t Look Right: If the tablets or capsules are discolored, have mold growing on them, are crumbly, lose their outer coating, lose their initial shine, or are stuck to the bottle or other pills; don’t use them.
  • The Pills Weren’t Stored Well: It the pills are stored in a freezing environment, really hot temperatures, humid places, or places exposed to a lot of light, tighter adherence to the expiration date is needed.
  • Opioid Narcotics: Keeping opioid pain killers (oxycodone, hydromorphone, morphine, etc) in your home to be used in the future is incredibly dangerous to you and those around you. This is the prime way children become addicted to these drugs and can ruin people’s lives.
  • A Few Left Over Antibiotic Tablets: You can likely use a recently expired (<1 year) antibiotics but if you only have 3 pills left and you need seven days of therapy, you are setting yourself up for developing bacterial resistance. If you are using the tablets to avoid going to the doctor and are incorrectly treating a viral infection, you are also setting yourself up for bacterial resistance.

 – Dr. Michael White from the UConn School of Pharmacy