Don’t Throw Away Those Expired Medications Just Yet

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When it comes to expiration labels, don’t believe everything you read – at least when it comes to medicine.

Many of us casually throw away medicines past their expirations as if they were poisoned. Luckily, science says that many medicines retain their potency well after their expiration dates. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but in general you can save money by continuing to use medicines past their supposed due date.

One stipulation: if you have any questions or concerns, ask a doctor. We are not medical professionals.

Forty years ago, the FDA mandated that drug manufactures list an expiration date on all medications. According to Harvard Medical School’s Health Publishing, that date has a slightly different meaning than conventional wisdom assumes. Rather than telling consumers the date by which the drug can be consumed safely, the expiration date shows the latest point at which the manufacturer guarantees the drug’s full potency.

FDA research on both prescription and over-the-counter drugs revealed some surprising (and cost-saving) results. About 90 percent of the more than 100 drugs tested maintained their effectiveness for a full 15 years past the expiration date.

There is no black-and-white rule when it comes to taking medicines after the expiration date. However, a 2012 research letter published in the Journal of American Medical Association found that a group of drugs ranging between 28-40 years old that had been found in their original packaging retained 90 % of their potency. Again, thats 30+ years after manufacture.

Only amphetamine, aspirin and phenacetin did not meet the 90% threshold.

One important drug—the EpiPen—was found to retain its potency for up to two-and-a-half years; however, it is still safer to keep unexpired doses on hand in the event of a life-threatening allergic reaction. You always want to be safe, not sorry.

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There are a few medications that you should never take once the expiration date passes, including Tetracycline (an antibiotic), Nitroglycerin (a heart medication), insulin and liquid antibiotics.

Whether you are trying to get rid of the common cold or put a stop to a splitting headache, take a look at the expiration date on your medicine bottle. Even if it’s past due, it can (usually) still help your body, and your bank account will thank you.