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Don't Be Tempted to Take Expired Medications

April 25, 2017
Published in: Pharmacy

Prescription medication lined up on a table

When it comes to expired medicines, the old saying, "out with the old and in with the new" is especially relevant. If you have a medicine cabinet filled with medications, it's a good idea to take stock of what’s in there to determine which drugs may have outlived their usefulness.

Why Expiration Dates are Requiredbag of expired medication

In 1979, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) started requiring expiration dates on over-the-counter and prescription medications. Expiration dates are a critical part of determining if medications are safe to use. They also indicate whether or not medications can be relied on to work as intended. Expiration dates are typically stamped on the bottle or printed on the label, sometimes preceded by the letters "EXP." It's critical to be aware of this date. Using medications past their expiration date can be harmful to your health.

Taking Expired Medications Can Be Risky

Once the expiry date has passed, changes in chemical composition and decreased potency can make drugs less effective. Some medications are subject to bacterial growth and antibiotics that have lost potency may fail to treat infections. This can lead to serious illness or antibiotic resistance. If your medicine is expired, there is no guarantee that it's safe to take, or that it will work. If your medicine is expired, you shouldn't use it.

Expired Medications Can Be Abused or Misused

Prescription drugs are susceptible to misuse or abuse, especially by individuals the medications are not intended for. Prescription drug abuse is a big problem in the United States. Accidental poisonings and overdoses are an increasingly regular occurrence. According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, many abused prescription drugs are illegally intercepted by family and friends, especially from the home medication cabinet. Expired medicines can also injure children or pets if taken by mistake. Proper disposal of unused and unneeded medications is an essential home safety precaution.

How to Dispose of Expired Medicationsemptying expired medication into a bio-hazard bag

The first step in properly disposing of expired medications is to read the medicine's label. Drug take-back programs are the preferred method of disposing of expired, unused, or unwanted medicine. The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, coordinated by the DEA is a vital public safety service intended to remind Americans to get rid of outdated and unused medications. This program facilitates the removal of tons of unneeded and expired drugs for proper disposal.

When drug take-back programs aren't available, you can throw away medications with your household garbage after mixing them with dirt or kitty litter and sealing it in a container. Flushing some medications down the toilet is sometimes appropriate, especially if the medications could be harmful or fatal to children or pets if accidentally taken.

Proper Storage Helps Ensure that Medications are Secure

Not every drug belongs in the medicine cabinet. Some medicines have to be refrigerated, while others should not be stored in a damp, bathroom medicine cabinet. In fact, medications stored in bathroom cabinets may be less effective due to moisture contamination. In most cases, medicines should be stored in a cool, dry place to ensure proper shelf life. Kitchen cabinets, dresser drawers, and medication storage boxes may be better options.

Proper storage and disposal of medications is an important part of making your household safe. You should secure any narcotic medications in a locked cabinet or box to ensure that unauthorized persons do not access these medications. Regularly checking the medications for expiration or discoloration is also essential.

Do you have prescription, over-the-counter, or pet medications that need to be disposed of?

Augusta Health is hosting a Drug Take-Back Day April 29th, 2017 at the following three convenient drop-off locations:

  • Waynesboro Neighborhood Wal-Mart – Parking Lot (1211 West Broad Street)
  • Fisher Auto Parts – Parking Lot (next to Augusta Health Staunton Urgent Care on Statler Blvd.)
  • Augusta Health Family Practice, Verona (Parking lot: corner of Green Hills Drive and Rt. 11)

Bring any prescription or over-the-counter and pet medications. Be sure to leave the medicines in the original containers. Drive-through and drop-off options are available with no questions asked.