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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.

Image Source: Thinkstock
Join The Conversation
amber512 amber512 7 years
Good to know!!
Spectra Spectra 7 years
I used to do stability testing of pharmaceuticals. We kept various drugs in climate-controlled environments for years and years and we'd periodically pull them out and test the strength of the drug that was inside them to make sure that there was still an effective dose in them. For the most part, they stayed stable for a good 4 or 5 years, so the drug companies used our data and gave the products an expiration date of 2-3 years out so they would be protected from people trying to sue them and to make sure that the product would be good up until the expiration date.
jennjennnbubba jennjennnbubba 7 years
great info! Was just having a convo about this with one of my coworkers the other day so now Im informed,
Rouge14 Rouge14 7 years
I was wondering the exact same thing just a few days ago as I've been quite ill recently (hay fever, then got a cold, and finally got food poisoning over the weekend :s) so I've been through my medecine cabinet A LOT and came accross a few drugs that were out of date, and didn't really know what to do about it, so thanks Fit for clearing this up :)
BellaVida12 BellaVida12 7 years
Good to know. I audit dated merchandise for cvs.
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