May 102012

Elderly Parents: Taking Expired Medications

Thanks to Scott Bell for his question about medications from overseas and off the internet. It is time you know another little truth about your medications.

Medications come with expiration dates by law. Before I give a medication I am supposed to check the expiration date. What happens to medications that are expired? Do we just trash them? Not at my house!

While there are a few exceptions, most expiration dates are arbitrary. They mean nothing. Ask you pharmacist what they do with expired medications. They are sent back to the company who might repackage them first, maybe not, and ship them to other countries such as India and Mexico. When you order medications from the internet, chances are you are getting something that “expired” and could not be sold in the US.

I have worked with doctors who go on medical mission trips to other countries. We saved expired medications and medical products for them to take with them. Some countries have limits on how long the medications they bring in can be out of date, others do not. For most things, the dates do not matter.

Some medications are good for quite a while others start to loose their potentcy and a very few will actually change chemically over time.

Here are some guidelines:

Never, ever, use expired medications on your eyes. It just is not worth the risk. Once a bottle of drops or ointment have been opened there is an increase in the risk of the medication becoming contaminated and causing a severe eye infection which could lead to blindness. After 60 days, you should throw it out.

Nitroglycerine degrades rapidly. Throw it out 6 months after opening, irregardless of the expiration date. (Make sure you have a new bottle first.) If I am taking something for chest pain, I want it at full strength. Even the nitropaste and patches should be within the expiration time.

Antibiotics – check with your pharmacist. Realize that the expiration date on the bottle the pharmacist fills is one year from the date that the prescription was filled, however the original bottle the medications came in could have a much longer exiration date and probably does. Some antibiotics can loose potentcy over time also, so please check with your doctor or pharmacist first.

Insulin – It too will start to loose potentcy after the bottle is opened. The recomendation is to throw it out 28 days after opening it. Some insulins are more stable than others. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist but as a general rule, I would change bottles once a month.

Narcotics – Most are good for a long time after the expiration date. However, do you know that if you are caught with a bottle of narcotics that are out of date, even if the prescription was written for you, you could be charged with illegal possession?

Before you give that “pain” medication to your neighbor that hurt their back, realize that is prescribing without a license and if they have a reaction you could be charged. It has happened. Actually, this is true of any medication but because narcotics are controlled the charge has more “teeth”.

We had an unfortunate incident in which a nurse hurt her back, it was the weekend and a relative gave her some of her prescription analgesic, a very mild one. (We’ve all done this, self-medicate). Then the relative got mad at her, called the cops and said she stole the medication. Even though there were witnesses to the verbal consent to take the medication, the nurse was arrested and her license to practice suspended. The legal and financial requirements to straighten it all out were too much and she decided it was easier to not fight it and gave up her nursing license. Now she has a record. Be very careful about who you “borrow” medication from.


  16 Responses to “Medication Expiration Dates: Do They Matter?”

  1. Undoubtdly expiry matters ….as it is not to take our lives but to recover from bad….
    Great post
    Lapiceros Publicitarios Lima

  2. Wow! Thanks for this post. Very Indepth. and A topic which it seems everyone thinks about but no one KNOWS anything about…. Including me!

    Music Retail Affiliate Programs

  3. Suzzane it is important to know about your medication, how do you feel about the trays that set up the pills for days in advance, are there dangers?
    Scott Sylvan Bell
    Body language of men’s accessories
    Now go implement!

    • Love them, use them. They actually cut down on problems. It is a real pain if it gets dropped and some days pop open and spill out!

  4. Suzanne,
    I am guilty of taking sometimes painkillers for my headache. I usually buy those from Bulgaria and I go there once per year. So they expire but only by a few months. I will not do it any more, thanks to your post. :)

    Body Language Of Choice

  5. practical information – thanks!

  6. Good info … and what kind of government obfuscation created the situation that having past date narcotics is illegal possession? Someone told me that the group most opposed to legalization of marijuana is not the Drug Cartels, but the DEA – it would jeapordize their jobs. Probably true.

    Lyle R. Johnson

    Encourage Guesses to Close Sales

  7. I often keep narcotics because they work way too well for me (1/2 of one is usually more than enough) but you never know when they can be useful, like in the event of a toothache. Thanks for the information about illegal possession and expired narcotics!

    Sabrina Peterson, NASM CPT, CES
    Fat Loss and Fitness 101

  8. It is perhaps a vast generalization to assume that medication received via the internet is automatically suspect. Many countries have stricter rules and stricter enforcement than the USA. While (as you say) some countries are extremely lax about it. (I suspect it’s a poverty thing – the concept of “any medication is better than none when I’m in pain and can’t afford anything else” but I don’t know for sure).

    I agree with you wholeheartedly about making sure that medicines aren’t past their expiry date, it’s very important. Also you make an excellent point about medicines losing efficacy after they’ve been opened. And, excellent point about eye medication, it’s just not worth risking your eyes if you’re in any doubt, great reminder!

    I’d like to add that it’s important NOT to throw unused medication down the toilet. The chemicals (eventually) get into our water supply.

    Oh, and I blinked in astonishment when I read “Nitroglycerine”. What? Dynamite? Ammunition? As medicine? I had to look that up – apparently it’s very effective for angina – which of course you know – but that surprised me, thanks for the education!

    Thanks for a most helpful blog on caring for elderly parents.

  9. Thank you for that great explaination! Always learning something new!
    Looking forward to tomorrow!
    Would you like to stop feeling guilty about caregiving?

  10. Have you also heard or read that we should never flush medications down the toilet as this has a very adverse efffect on the water supply?

    Yours In Health!

    G.E. Moon II
    Drink More Water

    • Yep. Some meds stay in the water even after treatment. Apparently a lot of you anitdepressants are found in the water. We joke and say that might be a good thing, but it is scary. What happens long term? Do we build up resistance? Birthdefects?

  11. How horrible that they can get you for having expired narcotics. We have a program in our area that happens every quarter where you can go take your expired medication.

    Yours In Health!

    Dr. Wendy
    The 7 Steps To Amazing Health</a

  12. Excellent info about medication expiration dates.

    Thorne Smith novels

  13. Very usefull information regarding out of date medications. A lot of this also applies to the millions of tons of out of date food we in the west discard/waste each year.

  14. That is a point well made-meds have different degrees of stability. And “borrowing” prescription meds is never a good idea.
    Good reminders!
    Be Well.

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