What Happens When Prescription Medications Expire?


Sober Recovery Expert Author

Prescription medications are mostly used for medical conditions that require treatment. Sometimes they are abused by drug addicts who may or may not have started off needing necessary medical treatment. But an important question for anyone to ask, whether it’s the recovered addict who is attempting to take their medication correctly, a current addict who is addicted to prescription pills or anyone in general who finds themselves in a position where they are tempted to take a pill that wasn’t prescribed to them is: What happens when prescription medication expires? Are there any dangers to look out for? And what should be done with the medication once it has reached its expiration date?

Meaning of an Expiration Date

In the case of prescription medication, the expiration date is set by the manufacturer. The manufacturer can guarantee full potency of the medication up until the expiration date; afterwards, the potency may decline. In many cases, the shelf life of a drug is in fact longer than the expiration date, but the expiration date is listed conservatively as a measure of precaution. How soon a medication really expires depends largely on the ingredients in the medication and the temperature and other conditions of how the medication was stored. Certain types of medications are more likely to lose potency by their expiration dates or soon after they are opened. Some of these include insulin, vaccines and nitroglycerin.

Know what to do once medication reaches its expiration date.

The Danger

With a few exceptions, most medications do not become significantly dangerous just because they are expired. The biggest danger in taking expired medication is that it won’t work as well or at all. This is a concern for people who are taking medication that needs to work effectively and immediately, as in the case with those who take medication for infections like urinary tract infections and blood thinners, for example. If a person assumes their expired medication will work just the same, they may be in danger.

What to Do

It’s important that expired medications are disposed of properly for various reasons. From possible environmental hazards to greater availability for addicts seeking prescription medication at any cost, there is a reason why expired medication should be disposed of properly. Many local governments and pharmacies have pharmaceutical take-back programs that will safely dispose of expired or unwanted medication for you. If you cannot locate a take-back program, you can also dispose of your medication in your household trash. However, if you decide to go that route, be sure to mix the medicine with a substance like cat litter or used coffee grounds. Place the mixture into a container, like a can with a lid or a plastic bag that seals before throwing it away. If you are tossing the prescription medication bottle as well, be sure to also remove all identifying information from the container beforehand.

If you or someone you know is seeking help with substance abuse or addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 866-606-0182 to start the path to recovery today.

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