Whatever the reason, you open your medicine cabinet and reach for a bottle of ibuprofen. But as you’re twisting off the cap, you notice it expired last year.
Ordinarily you’d run out to the store for a new one, but you’ve been cutting down on shopping trips due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Is it OK to take that over-the-counter (OTC) med past its “use by” date, or could doing so be harmful?
To find out, we looked at research addressing exactly this question — and talked to experts who live and breathe this stuff. Their insight might surprise you.
First, Consider the Safety Risks
Taking expired medicine can be risky, per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The issues include:
- It may not actually work: “If a drug has degraded, it might not provide the patient with the intended benefit because it has a lower strength than intended,” according to the FDA. That is, expired medication may not be effective. That’s particularly problematic with prescription medications; if they’re not effective, you could be in danger.
- There could be side effects: That’s due to the medication “yield[ing] toxic compounds,” per the FDA.
It’s best to safely dispose of all out-of-date medication, per the FDA.
How to Get Rid of Unwanted Medications
Don’t throw expired or unused medications in the trash. Instead, follow these guidelines from the FDA.
- Bring the unwanted medications to a drop-off site or program.
- If medications are OK to flush down the toilet, go ahead and do so.
- For meds that shouldn’t be flushed, crush the pills and mix them with unappealing garbage (like coffee grounds or cat litter), then place the mixture in the sealed plastic bag. Place that bag in the trash.
- For prescription medicine, remove any identifying information (such as your address) before disposing of the packaging.
Despite the risks, studies show that many meds, when carefully stored, remain potent well beyond their expiration date. Still, depending on what the drugs are and how they were stored, old pills might not give you the results you want.
“Mild painkillers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds (NSAIDs) or antihistamines for nasal allergies can easily be monitored for efficacy,” Dr. Tavel says.
In other words, if your skull is still throbbing after taking circa-2010 ibuprofen, it’s probably time to stock up on a new supply. If your headache vanishes, then you’re good to go.
Article by Molly Triffin for: