Do not throw away expired medications

Expiration date on medications does not indicate that the medication is no longer effective or safe after that date. Having had extensive experience with the production and testing of Migralex, I can reassure you that medications remain safe and effective for years after the expiration date. An article just published in the Wall Street Journal’s “Burning Question” column addresses this issue.

The FDA has conducted a study for the Department of Defense testing 122 different drugs. The conclusion of the study was that 88% of the drugs remain effective for an average of 5 and 1/2 years after the expiration date. The main problem with expired drugs is not that they become dangerous to use, but that their efficacy slowly declines. A doctor quoted in the WSJ article says that there have been no reported cases of toxicity from expired medications. But a decline in efficacy could be a problem with life-saving drugs, such as nitroglycerin for heart, EpiPen for allergies, or insulin for diabetes.

It is very important to store the medications in a dry cool place, rather than in a medicine cabinet in the bathroom, which periodically gets hot and humid. Also, do not leave drugs in a car during the summer – the temperature in a locked car left in the sun can rise to 130 degrees and higher.

I usually advise not to use drugs beyond two years of the expiration date even if they were kept in a dry and cool place. Before using an expired drug inspect the tablet to make sure it hasn’t turned colors, smells bad, or became brittle and crumbling. Obviously, if it is an inexpensive generic drug, get a fresh bottle. However, with expensive drugs, such as some triptans (Relpax, Frova, Axert) and injections of Imitrex (sumatriptan) considerable amounts of money can be safely saved. A common scenario is a patient with cluster headaches who has a bout every couple of years and has only expired injections of Imitrex. It usually takes at least a few days to be seen by a doctor and to get a new prescription, while the attacks of cluster headaches can be devastatingly severe. Again, the worst that can happen is that the injection will be less effective, but usually it will still provide some relief.

There is a difference in how long expired drugs remain effective depending on the formulation. For example, tablets are the most stable, while creams and liquid drugs, such as drops, are least likely to last past the expiration date.

4 comments
  1. Dr. Mauskop says: 12/27/20168:01 pm

    As long as medicine is kept in a dry cool place, it is usually good for at least two years beyond the expiration date.

  2. Linda says: 12/27/20167:23 pm

    How long can you keep pregabalin

  3. Dr. Mauskop says: 09/03/20144:14 pm

    The study was published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences in July of 2006 – here is the link

  4. Alison Amsterdam MD says: 09/03/20143:30 pm

    Do you have a citation for the FDA study?

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