Safe to take expired prescription medication?

Originally Published: April 11, 2008 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: April 25, 2008
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Hi Alice,

I wanted to know the dangers of taking expired pills. For instance Xanax that expired in September of 2001. I'm sure your wondering why someone would still have them but I am curious what would happen if you took them now.

Thank you,
Diney

Dear Diney,

The expiration date on both prescription and non-prescription medications signifies its full potency up until that date. However, this does not mean that drugs past this expiration date are necessarily unsafe to use or are spoiled. Many studies and tests have been conducted on the effectiveness and side effects of using expired drugs in the last fifty years. The only case that has shown detrimental results has been the drug tetracycline causing damage to kidneys reported in the early 1960's, due to chemical changes in the drug.

But before popping a pill that's been around longer than you have, keep in mind that liquid medications and medications that have been stored in a warm, moist environment degrade more quickly than solid medications that are stored in a cool dry place. For example, a liquid antibiotic is more susceptible to becoming spoiled not only because of the liquid factor, but also because its ability to fight microbial growth can decrease over time. If you do decide to take an expired drug, take a good look at it to make sure there are no visible changes in the drug such as clumping, discoloration, or odors. Liquids should stay clear if they came that way, and the consistency should remain the same (i.e. no separated layers or cloudiness). Additionally, if your life is dependent on a certain dosage, strength, or formulation of a drug (such as heart or blood medicine), you should keep your prescriptions current and pop the expired pills straight into the trash can.

Based on the guidelines described above, you should be ok if you took recently expired Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug that comes in a hard pill form. Though expired, hard pills degrade very slowly and should retain most of their original potency. If your condition requires a full dosage of the drug, then you should visit your health care provider, who can reassess your case and renew your prescription or prescribe new drugs as s/he feels is necessary. It's never a bad idea to get an up-to-date prescription if you still need the medication — there is a general recommendation to toss expired medications, regardless of the form. This is for your safety.

All of that being said, use your own judgment and perhaps give a call to your pharmacist or health care provider. After all, good health is a collaborative effort!

Alice

April 25, 2008

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Alice,

You say to dump the expired medication in the trash. What you failed to mention is that expired and unused medication can be taken to your local pharmacy where they have the...

Alice,

You say to dump the expired medication in the trash. What you failed to mention is that expired and unused medication can be taken to your local pharmacy where they have the facilities available to dispose of the drugs in an environmentaly safe way.