Using expired medications, Part I

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The following post was written for   To read the entire entry, click link below.

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My first guest post on generated an abundance of questions and concerns.  Among the most popular was that of using medications beyond their expiration date.  Are they safe?  Are they effective? 

It’s easy enough for me to say I think it’s safe, but is there any science to support my opinion?  I spent the week looking into the facts, and found some fascinating information.
To start with, just what is a drug expiration date?  In short, the date (required since 1979) does not indicate when a drug goes bad, but rather a date through which the drug is guaranteed to be good.  Compare this to what you might find on a can of beans:  the “best if used by” date.  

How are these dates determined?  In two ways.  [To read entire post, click the link below] 

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About Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

CYNTHIA J KOELKER , MD is a board-certified family physician with over twenty years of clinical experience. A member of American Mensa, Dr. Koelker holds degrees in biology, humanities, medicine, and music from M.I.T., Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the University of Akron. She served in the National Health Service Corps to finance her medical education.
This entry was posted in Anti-viral meds, Expired medications, Expired meds, Medications, Prescription Medications, Shelf life, Stockpiling medical supplies, Stockpiling medications, Tamiflu and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Using expired medications, Part I

  1. BrentCRNA says:

    I’m new here, but does anyone here have access to the FDA’s Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP) data. The results were published online then disappeared shortly after publishing. I’m told all of our expired meds are going to the DoD for use. Thanks.

    [Doc Cindy replies: I included a summary of the findings in my book, Armageddon Medicine. The expiration date on medications is how long they’ve proven to be effective via testing. The date does not indicate the date at which they go bad, only that they have been proven to be good until that date. I think most meds would be effective for years beyond their imprinted expiration date.]

  2. RPhMark says:

    I appreciate this article, however I believe you may have misinterpreted the regulations related to generic drug potency. Generic drugs are held to the same standards as brands in terms of stated vs actual potency. I believe the 20% you refer to is related to the allowed variance in actual bioavailability studies in humans. A small detail I realize. Thanks again for your work,

    • Thank you, Mark for this correction. I believe I actually stated that in Part II of the Expired medications series, and am in the process of correcting the article. In practice it makes little difference, but I do aim for accuracy. In checking the FDA’s web site, they say in recent years generics have actually varied from brand-name drugs by about 3.9%, which is good news for those aiming to buy extra supplies on their own.

  3. Doc Cindy says:

    Freezing may disrupt the integrity of a tablet or capsule, and may thus speed the degradation of medication, especially a time-release formulation.

    This said, the data from the Shelf Life Extension Program did not examine the question. Some of the antibiotics tested did appear viable for up to a decade after expiration, however, when stored according to manufacturer recommendations in the original packaging.

    Another concern I have with freezing is that repeated freeze-thaw cycles is quite likely to degrade a medication. If we don’t have the technology to manufacture antibiotics, is it likely we can assure 10 years of continuous freezing?

    Check out this article regarding loss of potency of frozen antibiotic solutions: Whether this can be extraplated to solid forms is another question, but the antibiotic solutions showed decreased effectiveness.

    As long as bread is available, moldy bread should be as well. Although penicillin is less potent now at killing bacteria, if its use were severely curtailed, its effectiveness would gradually increase as resistant bacteria become the minority.

  4. roadwarrior says:

    Is it possible to freeze antibiotics (in their tablet form) so that expiration dates no longer become a concern and so they last indefinitely?

    Not every country can buy antibiotics as freely as the USA, and stockpiling is an important preparation for collapse, but this is no good if the medications like antibiotics can’t last 10 years or more. Freezing would be a solution if it could be confirmed they still remain viable.


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