Hey Doc, I’m cleaning out my medicine cabinet. How good are medications if they are past their expiration date?
Shaun, that’s a good question that I frequently get asked by patients and friends. The expiration date on the bottle is the final date that the drug manufacturer guarantees the full potency and safety of that medication. For example, for Drug X, the manufacturer may have decided to test the drug two years after it was made and found it to still be 100% as potent as when it was first made. The drug manufacturer did not bother testing the drug three years after it was made so it cannot guarantee if it is just as potent, so the company can only guarantee potency at two years. The actual shelf life of a drug may be much longer than its expiration date. A study done by the FDA for the Department of Defense found that over 80% of the medications that they tested for stability were extended beyond their original expiration date by an average of five years. It should be noted that the drugs that were tested were in their original packaging. Once a drug is repackaged, the shelf life might decline.
There are no specific reports stating taking expired medications is toxic. The risk you take by taking expired medications is that it may not be as effective as it was prior to the expiration date.
Proper storage of medications may help extend their potency. Heat and humidity are enemies to medication so medicine cabinets may not be ideal. Since we live in the desert, it is very important not to leave medications in a hot car. Medications remain most stable in dry, cool places away from the light. The drug bottle caps should also be tightly closed and of course keep medications away and out of the reach from children and pets.
As a general rule, if a medication is essential for a chronic condition or life threatening disease (for example, hypertension, seizures or diabetes) it would be best not to take expired medication. If you want to take expired medication for minor health problems such as headaches, seasonal allergies or mild pain, it would be safe, it just may not be as effective or potent.
Dr. K., is it okay to reuse the plastic water bottles used for bottled water or soda?
Casey, Palm Springs
Casey, one time re-use of a plastic water bottle after rinsing it out with soap and water should be okay, but I would throw it away after that. Repeated usage of these types of bottles, which can get damaged from repeated washings, increases the chance that chemicals will leak out of the plastic and into the liquid.
You should also never drink from a plastic water bottle that you left in the car in the summer heat. The heat can melt the plastic and the chemicals used to make the bottle could leach into the liquid and introduce toxins into your system