Is It Safe to Take Expired Medications?

The average medicine cabinet typically has many different types of medicines in it- both prescription and over-the-counter. Each one of these medications also has an expiration date, which the manufacturer has had printed on it. What happens if one of these medications has just expired? Can you still take it? Or what if you’ve taken the medication and realize it’s expired after the fact? Find out the safety guidelines surrounding taking expired medications here.

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Is it Safe to Take Expired Medications?

The expiration date is typically tied to the effectiveness and impact of the medication. Over time, the medicine does become weaker. It is possible it may also become harmful to take (similar to expired foods). So there are two concerns with taking expired medications: is it effective and is it dangerous.

Whatever type of medicine you are concerned about, you should always check the expiration date and any explicit information about that particular medicine first. There may not be much harm in taking a medicine to relieve a headache shortly after the expiration date, even though it’s likely that it won’t work as well. However, for medications where efficacy is crucial, such as for medication prescribed to treat your blood pressure, not refilling or replacing your medicine can have serious health implications.

When Should I Dispose of My Medication?

There are other signs that you should immediately dispose of your medicine, including:

  • Any strange odor or smell
  • Any strange residue or discharge from the medicine
  • Medicines from more than a year ago
  • Medicines stored improperly in extremely hot temperatures

In general, the expiration date is a requirement on all medicines mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This requirement is to protect the consumer from consuming a weak, and potentially harmful medicine.

Taking medicine past the expiration date does have its risks, especially if you are reliant on medicine to regulate or assist with serious or chronic health conditions. It is important to track your medicine and expiration dates. When in doubt, contact your physician immediately.