Are expired medicines harmful?

Picture a situation. You are suffering from a headache. The pain has been there for a considerably long time. There seems to be no ray of home. You are drained of all energy to visit the nearest doctor. All of a sudden you remember having a painkiller at your place which you bought months ago? You get the medicine out of the shelf and take one pill out but wait! You suddenly read the expiry date. It appears that the medicine has expired 15 days back. You are trapped in a difficult place right now asking yourself: should I take it or not?

The above question has likely been asked by almost everyone. Like in the aforementioned situation, the expired medicine may be the only option available. What people might know are the side effects that tag along with the ingestion. Find out more about it through this article.

What does the medical community say?

Surprisingly there have been mixed opinions relating to the topic of expired medicine. Some professionals believe the medicines may not really be harmful. While others have argued against. The opponents put forward the argument that, such drugs can complicate the medical condition further. In turn, making the symptoms of the disease worse. By US law, all pharmaceuticals companies are supposed to post the expiry date of the medicine. The expiry date is calculated from the time the drug is manufactured to the extent the benefits can continue to be yielded.

One medical professional suggests that expired medications may not as harmful as people perceive them to be. The harmful effects are similar to that of rotten food. Meaning by the drug will unlikely cause any substantial harm. Medications like insulin, however, should not be used as soon as they expire. The potency life is minimal and can complications like severe chest pain.  The professional also argues for a more valid research in this relevant field.

 How is expiry date calculated?

The expiry date of any medicine is calculated through a rigorous process to ensure maximum potency. The Food and Drug Administration is the department responsible for conducting this examination. It does by carrying out stability tests under controlled medical environment. The drug is often injected or made to ingest by an animal or a volunteer. The results are examined by noting the duration of the drug. Typically, on average, a certain medicine will last from 12 to 60 months.

The US Board of Pharmacy also asks the pharmaceutical companies to incorporate a “Do Not Use After..” label. This makes it easier for the patients to keep in mind when the drug can last be used. However, many times, this habit is overlooked because the exact life of a drug can not be guaranteed with accuracy.

Do expired medicines actually expire?

This is a rather interesting question that research studies are actively trying to answer. One study went on to suggest that the shelf life may actually be longer than what is prescribed on the drug. A program known as Shelf Life Extension Program was carried out to find more about the answer to the question. The program examined a whole range of medications to find about their potency after they expired. 3000 drugs samples were carried out, of which around 120 belonged to different categories. The findings revealed some interesting insight that can prove to be groundbreaking in the field of medical science.

It was found that almost 90% of the examined drugs sustained their potency level for about 60 months. Only 20% of the total sample failed once their expiry date crossed. Drugs that were known to cure allergies and infections continued to perform for longer periods of time.

With the interesting results that were revealed, there are still certain things to keep in mind. The experiment was repeated again and the findings greatly varied. Drugs that sustained their life earlier failed to yield benefits later in the second trial. This makes it difficult for patients to actually decide which medications will have a longer shelf life. There were, in addition, other factors that affected the expiry date. The environmental conditions, packaging as well as ingredients affected the potency of the drug.

Should patients take expired drugs?

The answer to the question is: it depends. While the above findings of the research will suggest that it is safe to do so. On the other hand, medical researchers feel that not all drugs remain safe once they exceed their expiry date. Lack of studies in this field also makes it difficult to arrive at a final conclusion. Thereby, to take expired drugs or not depends upon what the said medicine is.

Amoxicillin Suspension, that treats respiratory tract infections may not continue to perform once they are outdated. Other drugs which require to be stored in a cool place have little shelf life and will lose potency quickly. While tablets and capsules (all vitamin supplements) are most stable and have a longer expiry date. In addition, they will continue to yield benefits even when the date is exceeded. Antibiotics, vaccines and injections should be disposed off as soon as they are outdated. Failing to do so can be utterly consequential.

Which medications should not be used at all once they expire?

There is a long list of drugs that need to be disposed off once they expire. Medical professionals will suggest that these medications may complicate the condition as opposed to treating it.

  1. You all have heard of insulin. The injections are used to control and regulate sugar level in the blood. It is commonly recommended to people who are suffering from diabetes. With the possible advantage it might have in the field of endocrinology, there is a flip side too. If the insulin injection is known to have crossed the expiry date, then it should be disposed of immediately. The chemicals that make up the substance is subjected to degradation. This can cause possible complications.
  2. Nitroglycerin or NTG. It is used mostly in oral form to treat angina which is a condition that causes severe chest pain. This medication may no longer have the needed potency if it crosses the due date. As a result, it is important for the patient to stop using it once the expiry date has been reached.
  3. A number of vaccines that are to be kept refrigerated can be of severe harm if used after the expiry date.

Further to that, there are other certain things that should be kept in mind. If any other medications apart from the above three seem susceptible to you then they should be disposed of. Suspicion can arise if the drug gives out a bad odour or seems to have dried up. It is always better to buy a new one rather than use up the old. Regardless, new research findings are needed to arrive at a more viable conclusion.




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