Expired drugs, are they still effective?


Many people may find it difficult to visit the doctor, and therefore, to obtain prescriptions for their medications.

These limitations to obtain the drugs lead to the possibility of taking products that have expired. But is it safe to consume expired medications? what can happen to you if you do? Here we clear these doubts and share advice from the experts.

The expiration date is determined by the stability of a medicine sealed in its original container. However, that date does not mean that the drug may be dangerous after the detailed period.

It only reports that real-time data or extrapolations from studies indicate that the drug is expected to be stable through that date if stored in the closed container under recommended conditions.

Most medications have a shelf life of between 1 to 5 years. Although there are also cases in which the expiration date no longer applies once the drug is opened, for example, ophthalmic products such as eye drops.

In another HolaDoctor publication, Dr. Alejandro Villar explained that “the expiration date that is printed on the packaging is a legal obligation and works as a kind of “guarantee”. Pharmaceutical companies guarantee that the medicine will be effective and safe until the expiration date, as long as it is stored properly.

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Villar warned that not all drugs are the same “Biological drugs that are made from proteins can degrade more quickly or even become contaminated. A protein is less stable than a molecule of paracetamol, for example. On the other hand, medicines in tablets tend to last longer than those that come in syrup”.

Due to legal restrictions and liability concerns, manufacturers do not sanction use after expiration, and generally do not comment on the safety or effectiveness of their products beyond the date on the label.

Is it dangerous to consume expired medicines?

There are no published reports of human toxicity due to ingestion, injection, or topical application of a currently available drug formulation after its expiration date.

In contrast, the Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP), run jointly by the US Department of Defense and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which tests pharmaceutical products for stability after their date of expiration, reported that 2,650 of 3,005 lots (88%) of 122 different products stored in their original unopened containers were able to extend their shelf life an average of 66 months past the labeled expiration date.

Still another report, from the US Department of Health and Human Services, noted that it would be reasonable, if necessary, to use the antiviral products Tamiflu (oseltamivir; 75-mg capsules) and Relenza (zanamivir inhalation powder) for up to 15 and 10 years, respectively, after their date of manufacture, provided that the products have been stored correctly.

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How to store medicines

To safely consume medications, storage is essential.

High temperatures and / or humidity could accelerate the degradation of some formulations, therefore, it is advisable to store them in their original container, in a cool and dry place, always protected from the sun. This way we will avoid any alteration.

Experts say that the kitchen or bathroom may not be the best place to do this, as they deal with greater changes in humidity and temperature.

Heat-labile medications, such as vaccines, insulin, and certain eye drops or antibiotics, among others, should be stored in the refrigerator, between 35 °F (2 °C) and 46 °F (8 °C).

If the medicine does not need to be cold, it is not necessary to store it in the refrigerator, since it will not keep better for it. Also, you should always keep them out of the reach of children.

Sources consulted: US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US National Library of Medicine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Health and Human Services, The Medical Letter.

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