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 package 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.
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.
In a paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine , a group of researchers tested eight drugs containing 14 very different active ingredients that had been sitting unopened in a pharmacy cabinet with expiration dates ranging back 28 to 40 years.
They found that 86% of the ingredients in these drugs were still present in the concentrations they were supposed to be. According to the authors, their findings suggest that some drugs, such as acetaminophen and hydrocodone, retain their potency for a long time.
However, 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.
It should be noted that some medications simply need to be thrown away after their expiration date. To know which ones, experts call for using common sense. It’s safer to take an expired medication for minor ailments, such as ibuprofen for a headache, than it is to take one for serious conditions.
For example, eye drops are a class of medication that should not be used past their expiration date, as they can become contaminated with microorganisms and cause vision damage.
Another case is that of antibiotics, which after their expiration are not as strong as they should be and this increases the risk that it will not be able to fight the infection effectively.
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 the greatest 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.
While most expired medications can be thrown in the trash, the FDA recommends mixing them with coffee grounds, dirt, or kitty litter to make them less appealing to children or pets who might consider eating them. It is also important to throw them in sealed bags or containers.
Other medications that have potential for abuse, such as opioids, should not be dismissed in this way. Instead, it is recommended to flush them down the toilet or deposit them in secure medicine disposal boxes, usually found in pharmacies or hospitals.
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