Thrown out, but still usable: the myth of drug expiration dates

The box of prescription drugs had been forgotten in a back closet of a retail pharmacy for so long that some of the pills predated the 1969 moon landing. Most were 30 to 40 years past their expiration dates — possibly toxic, probably worthless.

But to Lee Cantrell, who helps run the California Poison Control System, the cache was an opportunity to answer an enduring question about the actual shelf life of drugs: Could these drugs from the bell-bottom era still be potent?

Gerona and Cantrell, a pharmacist and toxicologist, knew that the term “expiration date” was a misnomer. The dates on drug labels are simply the point up to which the Food and Drug Administration and pharmaceutical companies guarantee their effectiveness, typically at two or three years. But the dates don’t necessarily mean they’re ineffective immediately after they “expire” — just that there’s no incentive for drugmakers to study whether they could still be usable.

The findings surprised both researchers: A dozen of the 14 compounds were still as potent as they were when they were manufactured, some at almost 100 percent of their labeled concentrations.

“Lo and behold,” Cantrell says, “The active ingredients are pretty darn stable.”

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I’ve taken expired prescriptions because I store them in safe and stable environments.
It’s how you store these meds that makes a difference.

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People get so excited about expiration dates on everything, especially food.
You don’t need a date on the package to tell you your food is no good, manufactures & Grocers just love for you to spend your money on more of their product when you don’t need to.

Drugs are a bit different, but it don’t surprise me the least that they can still be good after all these years.
@Wave is correct in it’s all about how how you store them.


It does depend what it is. I once took pyridium - don’t recall spelling - but it does become toxic past the expiration date, and it did make me sick. It was stored properly. It depends on the med.

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they make them expire so that you need to buy more bc you think they are unsafe, its common practice to make more money, its the same with shelf lives of electronics and cars and virtually everything, they make them so that they have to be replaced so that they can keep on making money.

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I believe there are a few medications that convert into deadly chemicals if they lay around long enough.
I just don’t remember which medications they are.

Most tablets can last a very long time though.
Liquid medications will have a shorter shelf life.