Drugs get old, too. What do you do if you’re not sure how old the milk is? You check the expiration date. What do you do if you see your loaf of bread is moldy? You throw it away.
Drug manufacturers are required to print an expiration date on medicine. For some drugs, that date is critically important. The expiration date represents the last day the drug manufacturer will guarantee the full potency and safety of the medication.
Relying on a less effective medication for a chronic or potentially life-threatening condition could have serious health consequences. It is also important to replace expired medications that have unique storage requirements, such as refrigeration, those that contain a preservative (eye drops and ear drops), and any solutions or injectable medication that appear discolored or cloudy.
Three potentially life-saving drugs that should be replaced upon their expiration date include:
- EpiPen (for severe allergies),
- Nitroglycerin (for chest pain), and
- Insulin (for controlling high blood sugar in diabetes).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring an expiration date on prescription and over-the counter drugs in 1979. The actual useful life of a drug may differ for any number of reasons, including the active ingredients, storage conditions and whether it is in liquid or pill form.
Health experts suggest checking all medications on a regular basis. If you need to dispose of some, check the label before you toss or flush it away. And remember to properly store any and all medicine in your home out of reach of children and securely locked.
You might also check with your local pharmacy, some hold programs to collect and dispose of expired medications. Don’t forget to dispose of any unused pain medications — they can pose risks to young children or fall into the wrong hands.
If you have any questions or concerns about drug safety, be sure to check with your pharmacist or doctor.