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Which Expired Medications Can You Keep and Which Should You Toss?

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Expired Medications

Find out from Dr. Oz which medications you can keep to save money and which medications you should toss to ensure that you are not putting your health at risk.

“You’ve got a splitting headache so you reach into your medicine cabinet for aspirin only to find that the expiration date on the bottle has passed last year. So, do you take it or do you toss it? Which expiration dates on your medicines really matter and which don’t?” asks Dr. Oz with help from his special guest pharmacist Suzy Cohen author of the book Drug Muggers.

“It’s a guide. It’s to help us understand when something can become ineffective or dangerous,” says Ms. Cohen who explains that just because your meds have reached that expiration date that they then do not necessarily become ineffective or dangerous at that point. “Basically, manufacturers put this on the product to guarantee at least ninety percent potency.”

To find the expiration date on medications you should look for it on the flat end of a tube (also referred to as its crown), on the bottom or the back of an OTC box, and on the bottom of the label on a prescription bottle.

To help viewers understand which medications you should keep or toss when their expiration date has been reached, Dr. Oz and Ms. Cohen offer the following basic advice when it comes to deciding whether to take it or toss it:

It depends on what your meds are used for

• 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.”

Dr. Oz tells viewers that one study that looked at how long a solid type medication could last if it remained unopened was found to be up to 15 years.

Liquid meds are a special case

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However, Dr. Cohen points out that with liquids meds are a special case. Many liquid medicines contains sugars and sweeteners in them that can become contaminated with bacteria. Other liquid meds come as suspensions of different ingredients--both active and inactiv--that may separate over time and may not provide you with the correct dose the next time you take a spoonful.

“With liquids I would just toss them all out on the expiration date,” says Ms. Cohen.

Give your meds a physical exam

Ms. Cohen advises viewers to also make it a habit to look, touch and smell your medications to see if they may have aged and gone bad.

One example is that some aspirin-type pain relievers that are typically white, will yellow when they’ve gotten old. Another example is that if the pill crumbles away easily, then this is a sign that it has degraded and needs to be tossed. You should also take a whiff of your meds. If the medication has a sour vinegar-like smell to it or something relatively foul smelling to your senses, then you should toss it.

Medicine as food can go bad quickly

Another way medication is delivered that merits concern is when it is placed in food-like forms such as chewable gummy sleep aids, caramel calcium chews and chocolate probiotic bites. Ms. Cohen explains that if the food has gone past its expiration date then the meds will go bad with the food.

“Follow the expiration date and get rid of it,” says Ms. Cohen.

Store your meds correctly

Her final advice is to not store your solid meds in plastic containers such as "day-minder dispensers" beyond 30 days because your pills will degrade faster when they are not stored together in their original containers. Solid medications last longest when stored in a cool, dry area that is isolated from sources of heat and moisture.

Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket

Reference: The Dr. Oz Show