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Don't Be Tempted to Use Expired Medicines

By Sherunda Lister, Office of Communications

Woman reading prescription label


With curdled milk or petrified cucumbers it’s not hard to know when your food is past its prime, but how do you know when your medicine is past its prime? 

Using expired medical products is risky and possibly harmful to your health. In the late 1970s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring an expiration date on prescription and over-the counter medicines. “Expiration dates on medical products are a critical part of determining if the product is safe to use and will work as intended,” says FDA pharmacist, Ilisa Bernstein. Sometimes following “EXP,” the expiration date can be found printed on the label or stamped onto the bottle or carton; it is important to know and adhere to the expiration date on your medicine.

Expired medical products can be less effective or risky due to a change in chemical composition or decrease in potency. Improper storage – such as a humid bathroom cabinet – can also contribute to decreased effectiveness in medicines that have not reached their posted expiration date. To help ensure the proper shelf life of your medicine, it is better to store medicine in a controlled climate.

If you have expired medicine, it should be disposed of properly. Read the label for disposal instructions that may be included.

If no instructions are provided, a drug take-back program, if available, is a good way to dispose of expired, unwanted or unused medicine. Check with your local government to see if there is a drug take-back program available in your area. If no take-back program is available, federal guidelines recommend throwing medicine away in the household trash by placing it in a bag or container and mixing with coffee grounds or kitty litter.

However, some medicine is specifically recommended for flushing down a toilet or sink because while safe and effective when used as prescribed, it could be especially harmful to a child, pet, or anyone else if taken accidentally. For a list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing, as well as other information on proper disposal, please see the Disposal of Unused Medicines page.

“Once the expiration date has passed there is no guarantee that an expired medicine will be safe and effective,” says Bernstein. “If your medicine has expired, do not use it.”

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