When Old Medicine Goes Bad: Make Sure You Check That Expiration Date

By  //  February 9, 2017

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'If your medicine has expired, don't use it'

Date stamps on medication labels actually mean a lot and, because they are based on scientific evidence gathered by the manufacturer showing how long the drug’s potency lasts, should be heeded.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve all gone to our medicine cabinets to see if we had any leftover medication from a previous episode of illness that we need now, hoping to save a few bucks.

Make sure you check that expiration date.

This National Public Radio article reports on what that expiration date really means, changes in the character of medications that raise red flags, and how expired medications should be managed to ensure safety.

— Dr. Jim Palermo, Editor-in-Chief

(NPR) — Most of us have reached for a painkiller, at one time or another, only to discover the date on the label shows it has expired. But what does an “expiration” date on medicine really mean? Is it dangerous if you take it anyway? Less effective?

It turns out that date stamped on the label actually means a lot. It’s based on scientific evidence gathered by the manufacturer showing how long the drug’s potency lasts.

Companies expose their medications to different environments, different temperatures and humidity levels to see just how long it takes for the medication to degrade to the point that its effectiveness is compromised.

The general rule, says pharmacist Mike Fossler, with the American College of Clinical Pharmacology, is that once a drug is degraded by 10 percent it has reached “the end of its useful life.” If you take it months or even years past the expiration date, it’s unlikely to do you any harm, he says; it just might not do you much good.

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That may not be a big deal if you’re treating a headache, but if you’re fighting a bacterial infection with antibiotics like amoxicillin or ciprofloxacin, for example, using less than fully potent drugs could fail to treat the infection and lead to more serious illness.

CLICK HERE for the complete story on NPR.org to learn how to handle expired medications and keep you and your family safe.

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