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Can You Keep Expired Medication?

So you’ve woken up with a headache. That bottle of pain relievers that’s been sitting in your medicine cabinet might sound like the simple fix, right? Well, before you grab that dose, check whether it’s expired.

Why does that expiration date matter? Simply put: Outdated drugs might not not give you 100 percent of the benefits, because they’re not as potent. And that may not sound so dangerous when it comes to treating minor aches and pains with ibuprofen. But consuming expired medications that treat chronic or life-threatening illnesses such as heart conditions, seizures, or COPD can be a dangerous oversight, since they’ll have lost their strength and won’t work as well to keep you healthy.

Other medications that should always be taken at full strength include:

Oral nitroglycerin (NTG), a medication used for angina (chest pain): This drug loses its potency quickly once opened.

Insulin (controls blood sugar in those with diabetes): Insulin may stop working after its expiration date.

Eye drops: Bacteria can grow in expired products.

Antibiotics: Sub-potent prescriptions can fail to treat infections, leading to more serious illness and antibiotic resistance.

Not sure where to look for medication expiration dates? Check the label on the bottle or look for a stamp on the bottom of the package. The expiration date can be found in either of those places. You might also see the letters “EXP” next to the date.

As for disposing of expired medications safely, follow these simple steps:

1. Mix uncrushed medicines with an unpalatable substance such as dirt or coffee grounds.

2. Place the mixture in a sealed container, such as a plastic bag.

3. Throw the container into the trash.

4. Scratch out any personal information on the prescription label of your empty bottle or package. Then throw it into the trash.

The FDA recommends that some medication be flushed down the toilet or sink because they can be especially harmful (even fatal) to a child or pet who consumes them accidentally. For an FDA-approved list of medications that should be disposed via flushing, visit

Proper storage of your medication is also key to keeping you and your family safe. Check your medication labels for specific storage instructions, as certain medications need to be kept in the refrigerator and others cannot be exposed to extreme heat. Although a bathroom cabinet is a common place for storage, it’s best to store most medications in a cool, dry place such as a kitchen cabinet far from the stove, or a closet shelf.




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