Saturday, October 24, 2009

Drugs and Your Safety

As long as you maintain the seal of the original manufacturer's container, the shelf life of a drug may be good beyond its expiration date. This is known due to the Air Force study which was done back in 1985 because the Air Force found themselves with a stockpile of medications that were about to expire. In an attempt to save money and not discard medicines unnecessarily, the Air Force asked the Food and Drug Administration to check these drugs for safety and effectiveness. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration), after numerous tests, “estimated” that approximately 80% of the medications would remain safe and remain fairly effective for nearly 3 years (the actual figure was 32.5 months) past their expiration date.

Some drugs weren’t retested because they were found to be ineffective and repeatedly failed testing past their expiration dates. The two most notable ones were water purification tablets and the drug, mefloquine hydrochloride, commonly used to treat malaria.

In a 2002 article, The Medical Letter, which is a highly respected source of independent information about drugs, stated that certain medicines, stored in high humidity and other bad conditions, remained useful for as long as nine years after their expiration dates.

Some important things to remember are the conditions under which these tests were conducted by the FDA for our military.

1.) The military tested original, sealed, and unopened containers from the drug manufacturers. Most pharmacists routinely re-package prescription medications from bulk stock into smaller amounts as prescribed by a physician.

2.) Many drugs were found to be unsafe or ineffective immediately and were removed from the testing program: most liquid medications, antibiotics, and certain other drugs( most notably the water purifications tabs and the malaria pills).

3.) Certain things such as drug interactions are routinely updated as more information becomes known about the effects of certain drugs. This information may not be available to you without a current prescription from a physician or medical doctor.

4.) The majority of household drugs and medications are not stored under ideal conditions. Most drugs are affected by the same damaging effects of light, temperature extremes, and high humidity that also affect your food storage items. Many are routinely stored in medicine cabinets in bathrooms were they are subjected to some of the worst storage conditions possible. Hot showers are nice but they aren't good for your medications.

5.) If the medication has been opened, or stored in a high temperature or high humidity environment, such as your medicine cabinet in the bathroom, it is probably better to dispose of it, especially if it is past the expiration date shown on the package or container.

6.) Shelf life differs from the expiration date. Shelf life is a reference to the quality of the drug and the expiration date refers to its safety and effectiveness. Even though a drug may still be safe for use after its expiration date, its quality and effectiveness may not be the same. Ultimately, the shelf life is going to be affected by the storage conditions in which it was maintained.

7.) Remember that your health and safety should be your primary concerns.

“When in doubt, throw it out!”

This is not to be considered medical advice of any kind nor is it intended to be such but is presented merely for informational purposes only. Ultimately, you should seek the advice of a reliable pharmacist or physician in regards to the safety, quality and effectiveness of any medications, both prescribed and over the counter (OTC) that you may be taking or are considering for your use.

Source references:

Drug Information

Expired Drugs. PDF

Staying above the water line!



Ken said...

...good post,i store the majority of our OTC drugs and my two 'big' first aid kits,the same 'place' i store my food items...i use a seasonal rotation on the meds,whereas the groceries are 'rotated' nearly every trip to the grocery store...

for the record:the last of my 'mystery cans' were opened(out of sheer curiosity)two were tomato soup,two were carrots,one was corn, and one was green beans...all had dates from late '07to early '08s...all were ate and seemed just fine(don't tell the Mrs...she'd

riverwalker said...

To: Ken

It depends a lot on how well you manage your storage. The high heat and humidity in most bathrooms are far from the ideal storage conditions. It's still better to be safe than sorry, especially where medications are concerned.

Thanks Ken.


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