June 17, 2024
Discover why it is crucial to store, use, and dispose of medications properly to avoid adverse side effects. Learn about the risks associated with expired medication and what you need to know about taking expired medicine.


Have you ever found an old bottle of medication buried in the back of your medicine cabinet and wondered whether it was still safe to take? You’re not alone. Many people are unsure about whether expired medicine is still effective and safe to use. In this article, we’ll explore the topic of expired medicine and provide some helpful information to help you make informed decisions about your health and well-being.

The Truth About Expired Medicine: Can You Take it Safely?

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that all medications have an expiration date. This date is based on the manufacturer’s testing and is typically set at 1-5 years from the manufacturing date. However, some medications can last longer than their expiration date, and some can become dangerous if used after their expiration date.

When medicine expires, there is a risk that it will no longer work as intended. It may also become less potent and, in some cases, could even cause harmful side effects. Therefore, it’s essential to pay attention to expiration dates and to store medications properly to extend their shelf life.

Here are some tips to help you properly store medication:

  • Store medication in a cool, dry place.
  • Avoid exposing medication to direct sunlight, heat, or humidity.
  • Keep medicine out of the reach of children and pets.
  • If medication requires refrigeration, make sure to keep it at the recommended temperature.
  • Always store medication in its original container with the label intact.

If medication has expired, there are some circumstances in which it might still be considered safe to use. For example, over-the-counter pain medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen are generally safe to use for up to six months past their expiration date. However, it’s important to use your best judgment and consult a healthcare provider if you have any concerns.

5 Things You Should Know About Using Expired Medicine

Here are five essential things to keep in mind when using expired medication:

  1. Expired medicine may not be effective. As mentioned previously, there’s a risk that the medicine may no longer work as intended.
  2. Expired medicine can be harmful: In some cases, using expired medication can be dangerous and cause unexpected side effects.
  3. Checking expiration dates is crucial: Always check the expiration date before taking medication, and never take anything that has expired.
  4. Disposing of expired medication is vital: Properly disposing of expired medication can help prevent accidental ingestion, drug abuse, and environmental pollution.
  5. Consult a healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns: If you’re unsure about whether it’s safe to use expired medicine, it’s always best to consult a healthcare provider.

To detect whether your medication has expired, look for the expiration date on the packaging. If you notice any changes in the color, odor, or consistency of the medication, or if it has visible mold, it is essential to discard it immediately.

If you need to dispose of expired medication, here are some tips to help you do it safely:

  • Follow the instructions on the packaging for proper disposal.
  • Never flush medication down the toilet or sink as it can contaminate the water supply and harm aquatic life.
  • Check with your local pharmacy or healthcare provider to see if they offer a drug take-back program.
  • If you can’t access a drug take-back program, mix the medicine with an undesirable substance (like coffee grounds or cat litter) in a sealed plastic bag before throwing it in the trash.

Is Expired Medicine Dangerous? What Science Tells Us

Most medications retain their potency long after their expiration dates. However, some drugs can be weakened, become ineffective, or, in rare cases, harmful after they expire. Research has shown that some over-the-counter medicines, like pain relievers, are still safe to use within months of their expiration dates if stored appropriately.

Regarding prescription medications, the FDA recommends not using any drugs whose expiration date has passed. Doing so can potentially lead to negative health outcomes, especially in people with pre-existing medical conditions. The FDA also cautions against taking medications that appear to be expired, such as those with a damaged container, missing labels, or an unusual odor, appearance, or taste.

When (If Ever) Can You Take Expired Medicine?

The FDA generally recommends against using any expired medications, including over-the-counter and prescription medications. There are some exceptions, however. In certain cases, it might be considered safe to use certain expired medications, such as oral contraceptives, antihistamines, and epinephrine auto-injectors. However, this is a decision best made in consultation with a healthcare provider.

Other factors that may influence whether it’s safe to use expired medication include the type of medicine, the storage conditions, and whether the person taking the medication has any underlying medical conditions.

The Risks of Taking Expired Medicine: A Personal Story

Stories of people experiencing harmful effects after taking expired medication are rare but not uncommon. A personal account from Jennifer Scherer, where she talked about her experience after taking expired medication. She took an expired blood pressure medication, which led to dizziness, nausea, and other severe symptoms.

It is essential to take expired medications seriously and store them correctly to avoid such adverse reactions.

How to Dispose of Expired Medicine Safely and Responsibly

It’s vital to dispose of expired medication safely and responsibly to prevent harm to yourself, others, and the environment. Below are some ways to dispose of expired medication:

  • Check to see if your pharmacy has a drug take-back program.
  • Use a drug take-back program provided by local law enforcement agencies.
  • Follow drug-specific instructions for safe disposal included in the medication guide or package.
  • Mix the drug with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter, and throw it in the garbage.


In conclusion, expired medication can be ineffective and dangerous. It’s crucial to observe expiration dates, store medications correctly, and dispose of them responsibly. If you’re unsure whether it’s safe to take expired medication, consult a healthcare provider to avoid negative health outcomes. Finally, always remember to take your medication as prescribed by your healthcare provider.

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