Photo courtesy of liz west, via Flickr. Modified by Curiousmatic.

What The Drug Expiration Dates On Your Medicines Mean

What happens when you take some of that aspirin that’s been in your cabinet for a few years? Does it still work, or is it potentially dangerous?

Actually, it means neither, according to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has mandated manufacturers to set drug expiration dates since 1979. However, the date simply means the last date by which the manufacturer can guarantee the full potency of the drug, not whether the drug has gone bad or is no longer effective.

In addition to this, many state pharmacy board mandate that drugs be labeled with a drug expiration date of one year after the date of sale, according to a report by NPR.

A study performed by the FDA on behalf of the Department of Defense conducted in 2000 actually showed that 90% of the more than 100 drugs stockpiled by the military – both prescription and over-the-counter – were good to use as late as 15 years after their drug expiration dates.

Except for certain drugs, such as nitroglycerin in heart medicine, insulin, and liquid antibiotics, most medicine can last as long as the ones tested by the military, according to Harvard’s guide.

Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry, the FDA says, and the official recommendation is to throw out any expired medicine, as it may not give you the treatment you need.

A video explaining the FDA’s drug expiration dates policy can be found on their website.


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Ole Skaar