Johns Hopkins Health Alert
Ask the Doctor About Your Prescriptions
Prescription Medication Question 1 -- Are medications that have passed their expiration dates good to use, or should they be discarded?
Think of expiration dates -- which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires be placed on most prescription and over-the-counter medications -- as a very conservative guide to longevity. The expiration date is a guarantee from the manufacturer that a medication will remain chemically stable—and thus maintain its full potency and safety -- prior to that date. Most medications, though, retain their potency well beyond the expiration date, and outdated medications, whether prescription or over-the-counter, are not usually harmful.
If your medications have been stored under good conditions, they should retain all or much of their potency for at least one to two years following their expiration date, even after the container is opened. But you should discard any pills that have become discolored, turned powdery, or smell strong; any liquids that appear cloudy or filmy; or any tubes of cream that are hardened or cracked.
To help maintain potency, store your medications in a closet or cabinet located in a cool, dry room. Also, don’t mix medications in one container: chemicals from different medications can interact to interfere with potency or cause harmful side effects. If two or more medications have been mingled for any period of time, discard them. A few medications, like insulin and some liquid antibiotics, do degrade quickly and should be used by the expiration date. Also, consider replacing any outdated medications that you’re taking for a serious health problem, since its potency is more critical than that of an over-the-counter drug you take for a headache or hay fever. If in doubt, consult a pharmacist.
Prescription Drug Question 2 – Where’s the best place to store your medications?
It’s not the medicine cabinet in your bathroom. The heat and humidity from showers and baths can cause medications to break down, lose potency and, in rare cases, even become toxic. To keep your medications in the best condition, keep them in a dry area away from heat and light, such as a dresser drawer. Kitchen cabinets are also a good choice, as long as they aren’t next to the stove, sink or dishwasher. Wherever you keep your medications, make sure that bottles are tightly sealed after use.
Posted in Prescription Drugs on March 6, 2007
Reviewed June 2011
Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Johns Hopkins Health Alerts Disclaimer
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