The Myth of Drug Expiration Dates

My daughter balked at taking a Benadryl from my medicine cabinet the other day because the bottle's expiration date had passed. I can't help it, it could take years for me to use an entire bottle of such medications. Now there's evidence that we shouldn't stress about medicine expiration dates. Pharmacist Roy Gerona and toxicologist Lee Cantrell analyzed a forgotten stash of medications that had been manufactured in the 1960s to see how potent they were after all these years.  

In his lab, Gerona ran tests on the decades-old drugs, including some now defunct brands such as the diet pills Obocell (once pitched to doctors with a portly figurine called "Mr. Obocell") and Bamadex. Overall, the bottles contained 14 different compounds, including antihistamines, pain relievers and stimulants. All the drugs tested were in their original sealed containers.

The findings surprised both researchers: A dozen of the 14 compounds were still as potent as they were when they were manufactured, some at almost 100 percent of their labeled concentrations.

"Lo and behold," Cantrell says, "The active ingredients are pretty darn stable."

The implication of the study is that the pharmaceutical industry should take another look at how they determine expiration dates. Those dates are only the amount of time the quality is guaranteed by the manufacturer, and could be a period of time pulled from a hat. As it is, hospitals and other institutions must discard hundred of millions of dollars in expired medications every year. Read more on this story at ProPublica. -via Boing Boing


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Except that you do have to watch the expiration dates of some drugs. That should be pointed out in the article. This is from the Harvard University site http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/drug-expiration-dates-do-they-mean-anything

It's true the effectiveness of a drug may decrease over time, but much of the original potency still remains even a decade after the expiration date. Excluding nitroglycerin, insulin, and liquid antibiotics, most medications are as long-lasting as the ones tested by the military.
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This is the oldest news... There are studies showing this same result every couple years, dating back to the Army circa Korean war. (1950s)
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This is so obvious... If you double the expiration date of a medicine, you cut the profit of the companies by half (sort of, of course - if you don't need to discard an expired medicine, you won't need to buy a new box if needed at least not that often). The pharmaceutical industry is evil, profiting on people's life and death at their own will. See the HIV for example (or even cancer): instead of searching more effectively for an actual cure, they just prefer to let people live thethered to their "cocktails" (which aren't cheap) for life. Profit, of course, so they can "spend the money of the profit on new researches"... yeah, sure.
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