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What Do Drug Expiration Dates Mean?

Prescription Drugs' Expiration Dates, Explained

I've always wondered what exactly an expiration date means on a drug. Does it become less effective? Could it poison me? Obviously, there's a big difference in those two things, so I was glad to see this NPR story that sheds some light on drug expiration dates.

Just because a drug is past its expiration date doesn't necessarily mean you should toss it. Many states require drug labels to carry an expiration date just one year past the date of sale, but drug manufacturers often set dates two years later, based on testing.

The FDA's Ilisa Bernstein says there are no guarantees that drugs will be effective after the expiration date but that medications stored in a cool, dry place can last much longer. Does that mean we should focus on decoding drug names and drug interactions and not worry about the expiration dates?

If the drug is used to treat something commonplace, such as headaches or heartburn, you're probably safe using it past the date. But for medications your life depends on — particularly meds for severe allergic reactions such as EpiPens — you should not use them past the expiration date.

Source: Thinkstock
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