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DO MEDICATIONS REALLY EXPIRE? Try An Experiment With Your Mother-In-Law
mombu ^ | September 9, 2002 | Richard Altschuler

Posted on 08/04/2012 5:49:06 AM PDT by JoeProBono

Does the expiration date on a bottle of a medication mean anything? If a bottle of Tylenol, for example, says something like "Do not use after June 1998," and it is August 2002, should you take the Tylenol? Should you discard it? Can you get hurt if you take it? Will it simply have lost its potency and do you no good?

In other words, are drug manufacturers being honest with us when they put an expiration date on their medications, or is the practice of dating just another drug industry scam, to get us to buy new medications when the old ones that purportedly have "expired" are still perfectly good?

These are the pressing questions I investigated after my mother-in-law recently said to me, "It doesn't mean anything," when I pointed out that the Tylenol she was about to take had "expired" 4 years and a few months ago. I was a bit mocking in my pronouncement -- feeling superior that I had noticed the chemical corpse in her cabinet -- but she was equally adamant in her reply, and is generally very sage about medical issues.

So I gave her a glass of water with the purportedly "dead" drug, of which she took 2 capsules for a pain in the upper back. About a half hour later she reported the pain seemed to have eased up a bit. I said "You could be having a placebo effect," not wanting to simply concede she was right about the drug, and also not actually knowing what I was talking about. I was just happy to hear that her pain had eased, even before we had our evening cocktails and hot tub dip (we were in "Leisure World," near Laguna Beach, California, where the hot tub is bigger than most Manhattan apartments, and "Heaven," as generally portrayed, would be raucous by comparison).

Upon my return to NYC and high-speed connection, I immediately scoured the medical databases and general literature for the answer to my question about drug expiration labeling. And voila, no sooner than I could say "Screwed again by the pharmaceutical industry," I had my answer. Here are the simple facts:

First, the expiration date, required by law in the United States, beginning in 1979, specifies only the date the manufacturer guarantees the full potency and safety of the drug -- it does not mean how long the drug is actually "good" or safe to use. Second, medical authorities uniformly say it is safe to take drugs past their expiration date -- no matter how "expired" the drugs purportedly are. Except for possibly the rarest of exceptions, you won't get hurt and you certainly won't get killed. A contested example of a rare exception is a case of renal tubular damage purportedly caused by expired tetracycline (reported by G. W. Frimpter and colleagues in JAMA, 1963;184:111). This outcome (disputed by other scientists) was supposedly caused by a chemical transformation of the active ingredient. Third, studies show that expired drugs may lose some of their potency over time, from as little as 5% or less to 50% or more (though usually much less than the latter). Even 10 years after the "expiration date," most drugs have a good deal of their original potency. So wisdom dictates that if your life does depend on an expired drug, and you must have 100% or so of its original strength, you should probably toss it and get a refill, in accordance with the cliché, "better safe than sorry." If your life does not depend on an expired drug -- such as that for headache, hay fever, or menstrual cramps -- take it and see what happens.

One of the largest studies ever conducted that supports the above points about "expired drug" labeling was done by the US military 15 years ago, according to a feature story in the Wall Street Journal (March 29, 2000), reported by Laurie P. Cohen. The military was sitting on a $1 billion stockpile of drugs and facing the daunting process of destroying and replacing its supply every 2 to 3 years, so it began a testing program to see if it could extend the life of its inventory. The testing, conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), ultimately covered more than 100 drugs, prescription and over-the-counter. The results showed that about 90% of them were safe and effective as far as 15 years past their original expiration date.

In light of these results, a former director of the testing program, Francis Flaherty, said he concluded that expiration dates put on by manufacturers typically have no bearing on whether a drug is usable for longer. Mr. Flaherty noted that a drug maker is required to prove only that a drug is still good on whatever expiration date the company chooses to set. The expiration date doesn't mean, or even suggest, that the drug will stop being effective after that, nor that it will become harmful. "Manufacturers put expiration dates on for marketing, rather than scientific, reasons," said Mr. Flaherty, a pharmacist at the FDA until his retirement in 1999. "It's not profitable for them to have products on a shelf for 10 years. They want turnover."

The FDA cautioned there isn't enough evidence from the program, which is weighted toward drugs used during combat, to conclude most drugs in consumers' medicine cabinets are potent beyond the expiration date. Joel Davis, however, a former FDA expiration-date compliance chief, said that with a handful of exceptions -- notably nitroglycerin, insulin, and some liquid antibiotics -- most drugs are probably as durable as those the agency has tested for the military. "Most drugs degrade very slowly," he said. "In all likelihood, you can take a product you have at home and keep it for many years, especially if it's in the refrigerator." Consider aspirin. Bayer AG puts 2-year or 3-year dates on aspirin and says that it should be discarded after that. However, Chris Allen, a vice president at the Bayer unit that makes aspirin, said the dating is "pretty conservative"; when Bayer has tested 4-year-old aspirin, it remained 100% effective, he said. So why doesn't Bayer set a 4-year expiration date? Because the company often changes packaging, and it undertakes "continuous improvement programs," Mr. Allen said. Each change triggers a need for more expiration-date testing, and testing each time for a 4-year life would be impractical. Bayer has never tested aspirin beyond 4 years, Mr. Allen said. But Jens Carstensen has. Dr. Carstensen, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin's pharmacy school, who wrote what is considered the main text on drug stability, said, "I did a study of different aspirins, and after 5 years, Bayer was still excellent. Aspirin, if made correctly, is very stable.

Okay, I concede. My mother-in-law was right, once again. And I was wrong, once again, and with a wiseacre attitude to boot. Sorry mom. Now I think I'll take a swig of the 10-year dead package of Alka Seltzer in my medicine chest -- to ease the nausea I'm feeling from calculating how many billions of dollars the pharmaceutical industry bilks out of unknowing consumers every year who discard perfectly good drugs and buy new ones because they trust the industry's "expiration date labeling."

Thomas A. M. Kramer, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

TOPICS: Chit/Chat; Health/Medicine
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To: CrazyIvan

Shouldn’t you be concerned about all those ricochets?

41 posted on 08/04/2012 7:32:10 AM PDT by bigheadfred
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All our expired and post-dated drugs and pharmaceuticals get collected and resold. They end up in poorer 3rd world countries where it relieves their pain, cures their infections et al at much much lower prices.

42 posted on 08/04/2012 7:37:12 AM PDT by RBStealth
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To: JoeProBono

And even as important. If your dynamite is beginning to weep it has prolly exceeded its shelf life.

43 posted on 08/04/2012 7:38:29 AM PDT by bigheadfred
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To: Safetgiver

“And 3 30 packs of Miller Lite a week...”

Does that come under the category of ‘hydrocarbon solvents?’ :)

Alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver cannot occur unless there are unsaturated oils (corn oil, soy oil, canola oil, etc) in the diet. Replace these with coconut oil for health.

44 posted on 08/04/2012 7:39:05 AM PDT by GGpaX4DumpedTea (I am a Tea Party descendant...steeped in the Constitutional Republic given to us by the Founders.)
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To: Twinkie

I was noting the same thing. Although I am not quite moved to cleaning toilets, today.

45 posted on 08/04/2012 7:42:31 AM PDT by ican'tbelieveit (School is prison for children who have commited the crime of being born. (attr: St_Thomas_Aquinas))
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To: Safetgiver
3 30 packs of Miller Lite a week

Only 3? Lite weight.

46 posted on 08/04/2012 7:42:49 AM PDT by bigheadfred
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To: JoeProBono

Is it okay to test expired milk on M-I-Ls?

47 posted on 08/04/2012 7:45:28 AM PDT by Jack Hydrazine (It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine!)
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To: Jack Hydrazine
Is it okay to test expired milk on M-I-Ls?

That is just crazy talk. You're going to risk making her even more sour????

48 posted on 08/04/2012 7:48:30 AM PDT by bigheadfred
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To: JoeProBono

Darn, I just can’t convince everyone that the eighteen year old single malt scotch is beyond its expiration date and they should not drink it!

On a separate note: There was an excellent article in the Sunbury PA Daily Item Newspaper yesterday about the level of pharmaceuticals in the Susquehanna River and other major streams and rivers. It was an absolutely excellent article that was factually researched. I went to their website to post it to FR and apparently they only put it in the hard copy of the newspaper. It’s a must read, especially since water treatment processes do not remove these drugs from the municipal systems.

49 posted on 08/04/2012 8:15:00 AM PDT by tired&retired
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To: TomGuy

I would question storing them in the freezer. Two things that CAN change chemistry over time are light and heat, so putting something in a dark refridgerator at a low constant temperature would eliminate those variables.

Putting it in the freezer would not be recommended however, because just as excessive heat can change chemistry, so can excessive cold. Freezer burn can happen to medicine just as it can happen to that nice steak or quart of ice cream. The moisture in your medicine will dessicate, which can cause chemical bonds to fail. Also, if your medicine is a liquid, freezing could cause the product to expand and break the bottle. Caplets can also be broken by freezing them.

50 posted on 08/04/2012 8:18:42 AM PDT by RainMan (I will vote for Romney, but dont ask me to donate time, or treasure unless he has a conservative VP.)
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To: lysie; Twinkie

I turn off the water and totally drain the toilet after a regular cleaning and then use a large sponge on a stick to sop up any residual water. Then, pour in Lime Away or anything similar at full strength and allow to sit. After several hours, scrub again. I still had to use an old serrated knife to get the last of the iron deposits off down at the very bottom.

Most hated job.

51 posted on 08/04/2012 8:20:19 AM PDT by reformedliberal
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To: bigheadfred; JoeProBono; Twinkie

Thanks for the information. I’ll give it a try.

52 posted on 08/04/2012 8:35:05 AM PDT by lysie
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To: bigheadfred

You might want to also mention to them that it’s not a good idea to use if they have metal pipes they don’t want to replace.

53 posted on 08/04/2012 8:36:59 AM PDT by Boogieman
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To: Kartographer


54 posted on 08/04/2012 8:44:39 AM PDT by PA Engineer ("We're not programs, Gerty, We're People")
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To: lysie; Boogieman; JoeProBono; Twinkie; reformedliberal

Muriatic acid is hydrochloric acid. Which is found in many “name” brand cleaners. It is merely a lot stronger concentration. So if you get it on you it will burn. Use gloves, TRY NOT BREATHE THE FUMES. So ventilate the room as much as possible. And rinse, rinse, rinse. Or flush, flush, flush. I actually dilute it with water into a spray bottle.

55 posted on 08/04/2012 9:06:12 AM PDT by bigheadfred
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To: bigheadfred

LOL!!! Maybe buttermilk would do a better job!

56 posted on 08/04/2012 9:21:09 AM PDT by Jack Hydrazine (It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine!)
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To: hoosierham

But, apparently, other NSAIDs work just fine for other people. It’s just that aspirin works best for me.

As for acetaminophen, which is the generic name for what is in Tylenol, I won’t badmouth it, as that is what I gave my children because of fear of Reye’s Syndrome.

57 posted on 08/04/2012 9:54:58 AM PDT by Bigg Red (Pray for our republic.)
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To: Bigg Red
Tylenol does nothing for my pain, but aspirin works like a charm when these old joints are acting up.

Same here. Those non-aspirin pain relievers are like ghosts; if you don't believe in them, there's no such thing. That reminds me; I played a little b'ball last night and this morning and have not taken my aspirin yet.

58 posted on 08/04/2012 10:32:44 AM PDT by JimRed (Excise the cancer before it kills us; feed &water the Tree of Liberty! TERM LIMITS, NOW & FOREVER!)
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To: JoeProBono
Expiration dates on medications are probably a bit order to keep lawyers of the a$$ of the manufacturer,no doubt.But my very limited knowledge of chemistry suggests to me that most,if not all,medications that allowed to sit unused for a long enough time will change in chemical properties to the point where they're useless...if not dangerous.
59 posted on 08/04/2012 10:35:13 AM PDT by Gay State Conservative (Poor Barack.If He's Reelected,Think Of The Mess He'll Inherit!)
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To: RainMan
I would question storing them in the freezer.

Long-term storage of chemicals used as standards is commonly refrigeration or in a freezer--but if you are going to do this with medication, put the prescription bottle inside of an airtight container. (Throwing away the original labeling is NOT a good idea.)
60 posted on 08/04/2012 10:37:21 AM PDT by Nepeta
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