Some Expired Medicine Is Still Safe to Use, Expert says

We’ve all been there: You pick up a new package of cold medicine at the pharmacy, use two capsules, and stash it in the medicine cabinet. Next time you’re sick, you notice that the box has already expired. So do you toss the pack and spend another $20 on a new case, or do you ignore the expiration date? And are prescription medicines still safe to use past their use-by dates? We’ve got the answer.

According to David Nierenberg, who works at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, some items to consider before using expired medicine are: how far past the expiration date it is, how the medicine has been stored, and what type of drug is in question. “If you are using something that was a few months or a year after the expiration date, and it had been stored well, for most drugs I don’t think you have a problem, said Nierenberg.

However, pharmaceutical companies usually test their products for two or three years, during which time they store their medicines properly; that means the medication has not been subjected to extreme temperatures, moisture, heat, or direct sunlight. So if you’ve correctly stowed your pills in a medicine cabinet, they’re probably still good to use. A study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000 found that medication might be okay far past its expiration date.

Researchers looked at unused drugs that the military had stockpiled and discovered that 90 percent of them were still potent.

When should we pay attention to expiration dates?

According to Nierenberg, there are some medicines that should never be used after they’ve expired.This is the case for liquid medicine like cough syrup and eye drops. That’s because you must break a seal to open these products. Once you’ve done that, these medications are very susceptible to bacterial contamination. Yuck! You should also pay more attention to expiration dates on prescription medicine. For example, if a doctor prescribed an antibiotic during your last infection, you should avoid using it once it’s gone bad. Why?

“You don’t want to take an antibiotic that’s lost [any percent] of it’s potency because maybe your infection isn’t going to get better,” Nierenberg said. Still confused? When in doubt, throw it out. You follow this motto when you’re cleaning out your fridge, so why not apply it to your medicine cabinet. It’s better to be safe than sorry, right? You don’t want to risk your or your family’s lives.