Throw Out Those Expired Medications – They Can Kill You

Posted under Prescription Drug Addiction on July 20, 2009
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Medications have expiration dates – just like food. And, just like food, when the medication is past the expiration date, it’s not supposed to be used. To do so may prove not only bad for you, it just might kill you.

About Expiration Dates

The expiration date on medication means that it is safe to use (by the person for whom it was prescribed, and then only taken as prescribed) until the expiration date. This assumes, however, that the medicine is stored under the proper conditions of light, temperature and moisture. If it isn’t stored correctly, in direct sunlight, left in the glove compartment of your car, out in the freezing cold, etc., it will likely be ineffective before the expiration date.

Most medicines have expiration dates of two years after the drugs are manufactured.

What Happens When You Take Expired Medications

It depends on the medication, why you are taking it (for what condition), how long it’s been expired, and other factors. Experts disagree on just how much harm can occur from taking expired medications.

In some ways, taking expired medications is like eating expired or tainted food. Let’s take some examples. If you eat tainted seafood, you can become dangerously ill from toxins that develop in product that’s not kept sufficiently cooled. If you eat meat past its expiration date, you may become very sick. If you consume any food products after their expiration date, you are just taking a risk.

The same holds true for expired medications, only more so. Taking expired medicine may actually make your situation or condition worse. Say you were prescribed medicine for a condition but didn’t use it all. You found it in the back of your medicine cabinet and figured you could take it safely now. Wrong! It could prompt some worse symptoms than the reason you took it in the first place.

If you rely on certain medications to stay alive, such as medicine for heart conditions, taking expired drugs may mean that you’re not getting enough of the medicine to keep you alive. In other words, it may have lost its potency, and your very life could be at stake.

According to medical experts, tetracycline-type antibiotics and some seizure medications can cause serious toxicity if taken beyond the expiration date. Drugs in liquid form are even less stable than tablets, powders, capsules and pills. Other drugs are affected by age, including birth control pills which, if taken after their expiration date, may result in an unexpected pregnancy.

On the other hand, some anti-viral drugs used to prevent and treat influenza (like Symmetrel and Flumadine), may last for years past their expiration date, according to some dissenting reports. Stored under proper conditions, some drugs maintain 90 percent of their effectiveness for up to 5 years following expiration.

But who wants to, or is willing to, take such a high risk?

Expired Medications Particularly Harmful to Children

Every poison control center has countless stories of children getting their hands on prescription drugs the parents have thrown away after their expiration date. The children take the medicines and can become poisoned, suffer a fall, or have other serious injuries as a result.

What to Do With Expired Medication

It’s simple: get rid of them. But do so in the correct manner. First, take the medicine out of the original container. Next, mix the drug with some substance that’s undesirable (meaning no one will dig it out and try to take it), like kitty litter. Place the drug/undesirable mixture in a sealed bag or waterproof container. Then throw it out in the trash. You should also contact your local poison control center for any updates on proper prescription drug disposal in your area

Another suggestion is to contact your pharmacist. They may have information on pharmaceutical take-back locations for unused, unneeded or expired medications.

What If You Have Questions?

If you’re unsure whether or not it’s safe to take a prescribed medication past its expiration date, or if the expiration date is illegible, contact the physician that originally prescribed the medication. If that doctor isn’t available, contact your regular physician, describe the situation and the medication, and inquire whether you should take it or toss it.

Of course, if medicines are stored improperly, they will degrade faster. If you see signs of disintegration, or it develops an acidic smell, throw it out immediately.

Tips to Be Safe

1. Once a month, go through all your medications to check on the expiration dates. Toss out (or correctly dispose of) any that have expired.

2. Keep all medicines in a locked cabinet.

3. Never leave medicine out in the sunlight, heat or extreme cold.

4. Don’t take a chance on expired medications – ever.

5. Post your doctor’s phone number, or that of the hospital, where you can quickly get it if you need it.