It’s a good question – do prescriptions expire? Yes, they do. Should you take expired medications? We say no, but let’s open up the conversation a little more about why it may be important to refine the prescription drugs dating process.
We want to be clear, LowestMed does not recommend consuming expired medications. We recommend following the expiration guidelines that are associated with your medication. If you have any questions pertaining to this practice, discuss them with your physician or pharmacist.
Do prescriptions expire? It depends on how you look at it.
Pharmacies and hospitals are required to throw out expired medications. Federal and state laws prohibit pharmacists from dispensing expired drugs. Is it possible they remain potent and effective for years after the expiration date though?
According to Roy Gerona, a University of California, San Francisco researches and Lee Cantrell, who helps run the California Poison Control System, say the dates on prescriptions don’t necessarily mean they’re ineffective immediately after they expire. They believe there’s no incentive for drugmakers to study whether they’re usable or not.
ProPublica, a non-profit independent investigative journalism newsroom, has been researching why the United States’ health care system is the most expensive in the world. In their research, they have documented how nursing homes throw out valuable medications after patients die or move out, how hospitals discard pricey new supplies and why drug companies create medication combinations that are expensive, even if they are made of inexpensive drugs. These practices are estimated to cost the health care system $765 billion a year.
When tested, 12 out of 14 decades old medications were still as potent as when they were manufactured.
Gerona ran tests on drugs that were decades old, but were still sealed in their original containers. Out of the 14 different compounds he tested, which included antihistamines, pain relievers and stimulants, 12 of them were still as potent as when they were manufactured.
During ProPublica’s research, they spoke to a pharmacist at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, which is just outside of Boston. The pharmacist told them the hospital is able to return some expired medications for credit, but was required to destroy about $200,000 worth of drugs last year – that translates to about $800 million per year, being wasted at hospitals across the country.
The FDA has actually stockpiled huge amounts of medications, like vaccines and antidotes, because the agency has known the shelf life of certain drugs can sometimes be extended by years. The stockpiles are kept at a proper humidity and are secure.
So why do prescriptions expire?
The FDA began requiring manufacturers to include an expiration date, because the limits allow them to make sure the medications work effectively and safely for all patients.
How do manufacturers determine a prescription’s expiration date?
Drug manufacturers apply intense heat and moisture to their medications, to see how they react to harsh conditions. This allows the manufacturer to propose an expiration date to the FDA for approval. Most prescriptions expire after two to three years.
Cantrell actually published a study that examined 40 EpiPens and EpiPen Jrs. The EpiPens tested came from donations, meaning they could have been potentially stored under less than ideal circumstances. The test showed that 24 out of the 40 expired EpiPens contained at least 90 percent of their stated amount of epinephrine, which is considered enough to be as potent as when they were made. Furthermore, all of the EpiPens that were tested contained at least 80 percent of the concentration.
The American Medical Association (AMA) has even stated the shelf life of many medications seems to be “considerably longer” than their expiration dates indicate. They say this leads to an “unnecessary waste, higher pharmaceutical costs, and possibly reduced access to necessary drugs for more patients.”
Information sourced from ProPublica.
LowestMed’s Health Information Center is meant for educational purposes and is not intended for medical advice. If you would like to recommend any story ideas, feel free to contact us.