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 Some countries have limits on how long the medications they bring in can be out of date, others do not.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.