Is it safe to take expired medications?
I recently took hypertension medication that was close to its expiration date (10 days to expire) unknowingly.. However, I was told by a doctor that expired medication can be taken up to 3 months after its expired date....is that really true? Please advice accordingly!
Hi Angeline, that's a great question. First things first, if you are ever unsure whether medication is safe for you to take or not, ALWAYS check with your friendly neighbourhood pharmacist.
In general, your doctor is not incorrect to say that certain types of medications can be taken past its expiry date.
The expiration date of a drug only indicates the date whereby the drug must be at least 90% of the original potency under proper storage conditions. The expiration date does NOT indicate a point when a medication becomes harmful.
Expired medication does not "go bad" in the same way that food does. There's no good evidence that shows expired drugs to be toxic, turn poisonous, or otherwise cause harm to you.
Medications can, however, become less effective over time - this is important to note for certain types of patients. Examples include:
- Diabetics on insulin
- Ladies on the birth control pill
- Seizure-prone patients on anti-convulsants, etc etc.
A less effective dose for these types of medications clearly defeats the point of taking the medication in the first place. Again, your pharmacist can advice you on the drugs that belong under this category.
If you were curious about the "up to 3 months mark" quoted by your doctor, well, even that's a conservative estimate. A report published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 2006 found that 88% of the tested drug lots were still effective for at least 1 year past their expiration date. Similarly, a 2000 study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration found that 90 percent of unused medications stockpiled by the U.S. Military remained completely potent several years past expiration.
That being said, there are some caveats:
- Your medication has to be stored correctly. Proper storage means the medication has not been exposed to extremely hot or cold temperatures, direct sunlight or heat and moisture.
- If your life depended on taking the medication at 100% of its original effectiveness, it's "better to be safe than sorry".
- Avoid taking expired liquid medication, and expired liquid eyedrops. This is because once a liquid medication is opened, it becomes very susceptible to bacterial contamination.
How to prevent expired medication and wastage
I'd say that if you are placed on a new drug (eg. you have been placed on a new hypertension medication), you should only collect up to 2 weeks of medication at most.
If you are using a long term regular medication for hypertension, then you can collect up to 3 months supply of the drug.
Ultimately, whenever you are unsure about expired medication, just play it safe and buy new medication, or bring it down to check with your pharmacist. It’s the best way to know that it’s safe and that it’s working.