The risks of taking expired medication
First an explication about what an expiration date means:
All drugs have unique formulations consisting of active and inactive ingredients designed to treat specific diseases.
Once a drug is developed, manufacturers determine the length of time a drug will last without deteriorating. The expiration date is the date at which the manufacturer can still guarantee the full efficacy and safety of the drug.
In this context, an important factor to consider is the efficacy of a medications, because it reflects the ability of the drug to produce the desired effect; hence, the higher the efficacy, the better the results. Expired medication may not adequately treat minor conditions (for example, minor headache, cold), or serious conditions (for example, diabetes or heart disease) because of reduced efficacy. As a consequence, inadequate relief from sickness could eventually lead to longer sick days, increased absences from work/school, and lost productivity at work/school.
Safety is another very important aspect. Medications may change their chemical and physical properties when they expire. Example for this are tablets/medication that disintegrate or even change color.
Adequate storage ensure that the medication will remain safe and effective up to their expiration date. Specific storage conditions, for example the need to be store in the refrigerator, are indicated by the manufacture or distributor.
Improper storage – such as a damp bathroom cabinet – can contribute to decreased effectiveness in medicines that have not reached their posted expiration date. For most medicines, a cool, dry place helps to ensure the proper shelf life.
When storing medicine in a kitchen cabinet make sure that it is away from hot appliances and the sink due to changing temperatures and humidity, which can affect the medicine. When storing medicine in a high traffic area, like a kitchen, care should be taken to prevent access by children at risk of accidental poisoning or others who may be tempted to take for abuse/misuse.
As can be seen, the big issues with expired medications are two-fold: drugs become weak and may potentially be unsafe. It is advisable to discard all expired medications. Why take the risk?
What to do with expired meds
Always check expiration dates posted on boxes and vials and if products are expired, check with your local pharmacy or physician's office to see if they have medication disposal receptacles. It is not recommended to flush unused or expired medications down the toilet as they have the possibility of contaminating the water system.