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Is Expired Medicine Ever Safe to Take?

Have you ever experienced a bad cold or headache and opened your first-aid kit, only to realize that your trusty medication had already passed its expiration date? If so, you’ve probably wondered whether it was worth it to try your expired medicine — or if that might make the situation even worse. 

According to Harvard Medical School, the expiration date on any drug refers to the date at which the manufacturer can absolutely guarantee the full potency and safety of the drug. However, research conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at the request of the military has found that certain drugs were actually good to use up to 15 years after the expiration date. (For context: About 90 percent of more than 100 drugs were given the green light.)

So, how do you know if the specific medication that you need for your splitting headache or nonstop sneezing is still OK to take? Unfortunately, there’s still not a clear answer on that. However, there are a few clear answers on what medicines you definitely should not take past the expiration date. Experts say any liquid medication that has expired is a no-go; the bottle’s environment is one where harmful bacteria and fungus can grow after a certain time period. 

Nitroglycerin and insulin are a couple of other types of medication that you don’t want to risk taking if they’ve passed the expiration date. Furthermore, you definitely want to avoid taking expired medicine to treat any life-threatening health issue — get emergency help instead. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If it’s important that your medicine is 100 percent effective, don’t take it if it has expired. Period. 

That said, certain expired medical tablets — especially gel tablets — can also be risky if they’ve been exposed to heat or humidity. And according to Popular Science, experts say it’s impossible to know whether your expired pills will even work as they were intended to in the first place. Still want to take them?

Gina Bellottie, PharmD, a professor at Thomas Jefferson University, told Popular Science, “For some drugs, the only risk would be well, maybe it won’t work as well. If you have a headache, maybe that’s not a big deal. But if it’s for an emergency problem, there’s a risk when a drug doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.”

Remember: When in doubt, throw it out!

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