Is it necessary to throw out your medications when they expire? Are there health risks? These are just a few of the questions our patients ask.
The truth is that the expiry date on the medication is not the date that the drug becomes ineffective. Rather it is the date that the manufacturer can guarantee that the drug will still be more than 90% potent – and that date is required by law.
However, it is true that there really isn’t an incentive for drug companies to extend this expiration date as it is profitable for them if people throw out their expired drugs and buy new ones. This is one of the reasons why the Food and Drug Administration have initiated the shelf-life extension program (SLEP). The program was started mostly for the US military who stock pile drugs, which means that these drug sometimes expire before they are used.
Data reported from the SLEP program shows that out of the 122 drugs studied, 88% of them could be extended on average five years beyond their printed expiration dates. These drugs were mostly antibiotics such as doxycycline. Amoxicillin could on average still be 90% potent 23 months beyond the recommended expiration date, and ciprofloxacin could be extended by 55 months.
The research group also looked at sealed drugs from a pharmacy that were 28-40 years out of date. Many of them were still 90% potent after all that time including acetaminophen, codeine, hydrocodone and barbiturates. Aspirin and amphetamine were not potent after all these years.
So should you throw out your expired drugs? The best advice is to ask your doctor to see if your drug is one of the ones on the list or not.