FDA Reminds Consumers that Taking Expired Meds Can Harm Your Health

Proper way to dispose of expired meds

Here’s the latest from the Food and Drug Administration on why taking expired meds can harm your health, and how to dispose of those expired meds properly.

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It’s tempting to hang onto left-over medications in order to save money and/or treat yourself the next time you get sick to save yourself from having to make a trip to the clinic. But according to the FDA, hanging onto and using meds that are past their expiration date is a health risk.

“The medicine expiration date is a critical part of deciding if the product is safe to use and will work as intended,” says Ilisa Bernstein, Pharm.D., J.D., Deputy Director of the Office of Compliance in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research who tells consumers that the expiration date is typically printed on the label or stamped onto the bottle or carton, sometimes following “EXP.”

“Once the expiration date has passed there is no guarantee that the medicine will be safe and effective,” says Bernstein. “If your medicine has expired, do not use it.”


The Risks of Expired Meds

So what makes taking expired meds risky? According to the FDA it’s really an issue about how some medications degrade rather quickly, and safety in the home.

• Expired medical products can be less effective or risky due to a change in chemical composition or a decrease in strength.

• Certain expired medications are at risk of bacterial growth and sub-potent antibiotics can fail to treat infections, leading to more serious illnesses and antibiotic resistance.

• Medicines that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse, and abuse. Studies show that many abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.

• Finally, expired medicines are also not just a risk to the person they were prescribed for, but can also injure children and pets if taken by mistake.

What the FDA has to say about expired meds video


What Dr. Oz has to say about expired meds

According to Dr. Oz and his special guest pharmacist Suzy Cohen author of the book Drug Muggers, whether or not to take an expired med is that it depends on what your meds are used for. For example:

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• Meds that are for non-life threatening conditions such as headaches, allergies and sleeping difficulties can be used beyond their expiration dates by at least a few months.

• Meds that are for life threatening conditions such as insulin medication for diabetics or nitroglycerin tablets for cardiac patients should not be used beyond their expiration date.

• Meds for children should not be used past their expiration date. Some, like those used for treating earaches, contain antibiotics that will degrade very quickly. “You never want to give your kids expired meds,” says Ms. Cohen. “Those can go bad after the 14 days.”

How to properly dispose of expired meds

The preferred way of properly disposing of expired meds is to leave it in the hands of professionals via a community drug take-back program. However, if one is not available where you live, here are the recommended steps to perform when disposing of expired meds with your household trash:

1. First, read the medicine’s label and follow any specific disposal instructions that may be included.

2. Mix uncrushed tablets and capsules in in either dirt, kitty litter or used coffee grounds to make it unlikely a pet or other animal will dig through the trash and eat the meds.

3. Seal the expired meds/coffee grounds mix in a plastic bag before tossing it into the trash container.

4. Be sure to mark out any personal info on the labeling that came with the meds.

5. If recyclable, remove the label from the pill bottle and toss the bottle in with the rest of your recyclables.

For more about medication safe practices, here are five simple and effective tips for parents to follow in storing their medications at home.

Reference: FDA.gov ―“Don’t Be Tempted to Use Expired Medicines

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