Do medications and supplements really go bad at their expiration date?
The expiration date on a medication is the date until which the manufacturer can guarantee its safety and full potency. Proper storage can help ensure that the medication does not "go bad". In fact, medications stored under proper conditions may retain all or much of their potency for at least one to two years following their expiration date, often longer. However, since some medications become harmful if taken after they have expired, it is never recommended to take expired medication.
Medications stored under adverse conditions, such as heat, humidity, and direct light, may actually expire before the stated expiration date. One place that is notoriously bad for storing medications is the typical bathroom medicine cabinet. The heat and humidity that can build up during bathing make it exactly the wrong place to keep medicine. Those conditions can cause a medication to break down, lose its potency, or in some cases become toxic. On the other hand, a refrigerator is ideal for certain medications and supplements: It's cool, dark, and dry. Be sure to always read directions on medicine containers - both prescription and over-the-counter - as special storage instructions should be listed.
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- Throw away any pills if they are discolored or powdery, or smell unusual or strong.
- Toss capsules that are cracked, leaking, or sticking together.
- Discard any liquids that have become cloudy or filmy, or any hardened or cracked creams.
- Store medications in a cool, dry location, out of the reach of children and pets. Make sure those requiring refrigeration are stored in and returned after use to the refrigerator, and again - out of children's reach.
- Avoid storing different medications in one container because chemicals from one medication can alter another in potency or cause harmful side effects. If different medications have been stored in the same container for any period of time, throw them away.
- Note that certain medications, such as insulin and liquid antibiotics, break down quickly and should be used by the expiration date.
- Be especially cautious with medications used for a serious health condition compared to an aspirin for a headache. You want to be sure it's at its full potency. So take storage precautions very seriously.
- When in doubt about a drug's storage or safety, ask your pharmacist.