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Is Expired Medicine Safe?

Imagine a headache that has you searching the medicine cabinet in hopes of finding some Tylenol, only to discover it expired a year ago, now what?

What do expiration dates for over-the-counter and prescription drugs really mean? Medicines have expiry dates so people know when to use them. Drug manufacturers are required to stamp an expiration date on their products. Expiration dates are listed to make sure we get what we pay for – a fully potent and safe medicine.

Is medicine still safe to take after its expiration date? While it may feel wasteful and frustrating to throw drugs into the trash, the expiration dates were put there to ensure the safety and effectiveness of drugs. While some studies show that much of a drug’s original potency remains up to a couple of years after the expiration date has passed, it is known that the effectiveness of the medication may decrease over time.

Most of what is known about drug expiration dates come from a study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration at the request of the military. The military faced tossing out and replacing its drugs every few years. What they found from the study is 90% of more than 100 drugs were perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date.

If the expiration date passed a few years ago, and it’s important that the medicine is 100% effective, then consider buying a new bottle. Prescription medications, on the other hand, should only be taken as prescribed and should be properly disposed of at the end of the prescription.


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