The truth about expired medicines

reviewing prescription bottle

If you’ve ever cleaned out your medicine cabinet, you’ve likely come across prescriptions or over-the-counter (OTC) meds that are past their expiration date. You may wonder whether these are still safe, and if not, what you should do with them.

Why do drugs have expiration dates?

Since 1979, drug manufacturers have been legally required to include an expiration date on prescription and OTC medicines. The expiration date indicates when the safety and effectiveness of a medicine can no longer be guaranteed.¹ Always make sure to check the expiration date printed on the label or stamped onto the bottle or carton, sometimes following the text “EXP.”

The safety risks of expired drugs

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against taking any expired medicine because it may not work as intended or may even be harmful to your health.²

Some expired medicines are at risk of bacterial growth, which can cause infection, irritation and other potentially harmful side effects.³ Other expired medicines may be less effective as the strength of the drug decreases over time. For example, expired antibiotics can fail to treat an infection, potentially allowing the infection to spread and leading to antibiotic resistance or other complications.⁴

In addition, if a medicine appears cloudy or has a different smell, color or consistency than normal, you should not take it—regardless of expiration date.

The safest option is to avoid taking any expired or questionable medicine. But if you already have or are curious about a medicine that’s about to expire, please talk to your prescriber for guidance.

How to store your medicine for maximum effectiveness

Even before the expiration date, medicine can be made less effective if not stored properly. Many people store medicine in their bathroom cabinet, but this is actually one of the worst places to keep it as high temperatures and humidity can affect the chemical composition of a drug and reduce potency.⁵

In general, most medicines should be kept in a cool, dry place such as a dresser drawer or closet shelf. Other medicines need to be stored in the refrigerator because they’re only effective at a certain temperature, such as injectables like insulin.⁶

Always check the label of your medicine for any specific storage instructions and call us or chat with us online if you have any questions.

How to throw out expired medicine safely

Expired or not, unused medicine in your home should be disposed of to help keep everyone in your household safe, including children and pets. You can take advantage of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day or find a local disposal center with the Dispose My Meds™ location service.

You can also throw out medicines in your household trash, but be sure to follow these precautions:

  • Keep the childproof caps screwed on tightly.
  • Scratch out any personal information on the label.
  • Hide them in coffee grounds or a secure, concealed container.
  • Put them in the trash on the day of garbage pickup.

Only flush medicine down the toilet that’s on the FDA’s flush list.⁷ If you need to dispose of needles, syringes or other sharps waste, follow these special safety measures.

How CenterWell Pharmacy® can help you get a new prescription

If you have a medicine that’s expired and need a new prescription, we’re here to make it easy for you.

Start a new prescription today. Once your prescriber approves it, we’ll mail your medicine safely and securely to your door in 7–10 days.

You can also fill a new prescription by mail or call our toll-free automated system 24/7 at 800-379-0092 (TTY: 711).

And if you need help or have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Our Customer Care specialists and expert pharmacists are happy to help!

Sources:

  1. “Don’t Be Tempted to Use Expired Medicines,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, last accessed December 2, 2022, https://www.fda.gov/drugs/special-features/dont-be-tempted-use-expired-medicines.
  2. “Don’t Be Tempted to Use Expired Medicines.”
  3. Tiffany S. Cross, “Can You Take Expired Medications?” Orlando Health, last accessed December 2, 2022, https://www.orlandohealth.com/content-hub/can-you-take-expired-medications.
  4. “Don’t Be Tempted to Use Expired Medicines.”
  5. “Don’t Be Tempted to Use Expired Medicines.”
  6. “Can You Take Expired Medications?”
  7. "Drug Disposal: FDA's Flush List for Certain Medicines," U.S. Food and Drug Administration, last accessed December 6, 2022, https://www.fda.gov/drugs/disposal-unused-medicines-what-you-should-know/drug-disposal-fdas-flush-list-certain-medicines#FlushList.

Disclaimers:

This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional. If you are in a life-threatening or emergency situation, please dial 9-1-1 and seek medical attention immediately.

Links to various other websites from this site are provided for your convenience only and do not constitute or imply endorsement by CenterWell Pharmacy or its subsidiaries of these sites, any products, views, or services described on these sites, or of any other material contained therein. CenterWell Pharmacy disclaims responsibility for their content and accuracy.

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