Does Medicine Actually Expire?



there are plenty of reasons to want a fully stocked medicine cabinet but it's also possible to be too prepared like well that huge bottle of aspirin you bought on sale 10 years ago might have seemed like a great idea it's almost definitely expired by now expired medicine might seem like a weird concept because a lot of it doesn't get moldy or slimy like old food some of its just powder but it can expire and when it does it's time to pitch it just like with packaged food drug manufacturers in the u.s. are required to provide an expiration date for medications they're estimated after seeing how many samples of a drug degrade over short periods of time or by accelerating the breakdown of the drugs active ingredients like the dates on food the dates on medicine aren't an indicator of when the drug might hurt you instead they're a guarantee that it will work as intended as long as it's in the original sealed packaging however after that date you can't be totally confident that the medicine will work as well and if you've already opened the bottle well the expiration date no longer applies and all bets are off some of this is because outside factors can cause compounds in medicine to break down more quickly heat humidity and sunlight are all big ones and in some cases those broken-down compounds can actually become unsafe so if you've been keeping your aspirin in the bathroom cabinet all this time your shower has probably done a number on it even if everything looks normal for many medicines there's also the risk of bacterial growth especially when it comes to liquid medicine as soon as you open that container the contents are no longer sterile and quickly become susceptible to contamination from the environment so if you take that past the expiration date there's a chance you're drinking something pretty nasty ultimately taking expired medicine is like spinning a roulette wheel of potential dangers in the best case scenario the drug just won't work as well and in the worst case you'll make yourself more sick and since it's really difficult to figure out what all the risks are it's just not worth it also this should go without saying but this is especially true about drugs for serious or life-threatening medical conditions especially because some of those lose their effectiveness really quickly for example the heart medicine nitroglycerin becomes unstable at a high heat and is known to lose its potency fast these drugs can also seriously hurt you some prescription drugs have a very narrow therapeutic window meaning the exact dosage is really important receiving too much or too little of an active ingredient could have significant adverse effects so at the end of the day it's much safer just to pitch things if there aren't any specific instructions on the package the Food and Drug Administration website has recommendations for how to do that if you want to learn more you can click the link in our description thanks for asking and thanks to all of our patrons on patreon for supporting this episode and for asking such thoughtful questions if you want to help us keep making more episodes and support free science education online you can go to patreon.com/scishow

26 comments

  1. I am a pharmacy student. Remember to store your medications in a cool, dry place and away from children!

  2. A lot of police stations have expired or unwanted prescription drop off events like once a month. They hand them off to professionals.

  3. Packaged foods are not required to have an expiration date by federal law. So I'm worried where you get your information

  4. I saw a study where they looked at a wide range of drugs 5 years past date, all were fine. Nitro needs to be tossed 6 months after the bottle is opened; our other "special case" that was mentioned – aspirin – can be used until it starts to smell like vinegar (which is the sign it has degraded beyond medical use…won't hurt you but won't do the job…) Liquids are fine until opened – ophthalmic solutions should be tossed after 30 days because of the risks associated with possible contamination; other liquids can be used as long as they remain clear if you use the appropriate utensils for administering them rather than drinking from the bottle (maintain sterility or toss after 30 days after opening…) I am an RN; of course we follow expiration dates religiously in care settings but those are the guidelines I follow at home. Always anything seems off about medications (the color or smell doesn't seem right, get rid of them…) but if they look and smell ok and you've stored them in a reasonable manner most will be fine long past date. Hope that helps some people who were wanting "guidelines"…

  5. Too many generalities, not enough facts. You didn't give any examples of medicines breaking down into harmful compounds.

  6. NOT TRUE. The only package food that an expiration date is "required" for is infant formula.

    From the USDA:
    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires a “use by” date on infant formula. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not require quality or food safety date labels for products under its purview. However, the USDA does require a "pack date" for poultry products and thermally processed, commercially sterile products to help identify product lots and facilitate trace-back activities in the event of an outbreak of foodborne illness (see 9 CFR 381.126 and 431.2(e), respectively).

  7. Are lightbulbs made on purpose to work for a limited time?I saw on instagram a lightbulb that works for years and….idk what to believe now

  8. Are there actually any medicines that if you take them when they’re expired you get all bumpy (this is a Dumb Ways To Die reference)

    this is a joke you don’t have to take this seriously but I kinda want to know

  9. "Thanks for asking Thoughtful questions"
    I remember when Hank was irritated for answering the question about anal hair. Lol

  10. This article is misleading and seemingly biased. There are numerous studies from top flight universities, not to mention the US Dept. Of Defense that showed 2 out of three medicines were 100% effective 4 years and more after the so called expiration date ( 2006 study cited ProPublica). It's not carteblanc approval, but expired drugs are a LOT more safe than this apparently poorly researched article states.

  11. Pharmacy student here. By the time a drug has reached its expiration date, about 90% of the initial dose is still active. This is assuming optimal conditions for each drug. The issue is you never really know the condition that your medicine has gone through while it's stored. As a safe bet, you should usually dispose of medication that is expired and just buy medicine as you need it and not in bulk, unless you take it chronically and will consume it before the beyond use date. Some pharmacies and police stations have expired medication disposal services, otherwise you can mix your expired liquid or crushed tablets into coffee grounds and dispose into the trash. Never flush your meds down the toilet. As some others have mentioned, lower income countries are sent expired medicines for their own use and that is because expired medicine will probably still be efficacious.

  12. The sell by date and the expiration dates are different things. When I worked in a major emergency room, we would give families tylenol that was past it's sell by date as the manufacturer told us it was good for at least a year after the sell by date. Also, medications don't just turn bad the day the sell by date hits. If you take an aspirin a month or two or even a year after it's sell by date, you are safe, it's the expiration date that you have to watch. Prescriptions have them on the labels of your meds and you should be very careful to get rid of them as soon as you can after you notice them. My pharmacy is suggesting we put them in the cat litter from our cat and mix it in when we take the litter out to throw it away. Sure keeps people from grabbing some pills!

  13. When I was a teenager, like everyone else I got a pimply face, but even though Clearasil had just entered the market at that time, my parents insisted that I had to use some creme that they had had since their wedding! it was probably 25 to 30 years old at that time. The product i was forced to use was named "Dr. Dralle's Sulphur Milk Creme" and it had a bright yellow colour, as well as a rather pungent smell. Did I get harassed in school for using that? You bet I did. 🙁

  14. This video is sponsored by big pharmaceutical companies. Medicine (except syrups, ointments nd tinctures) don't expire and hav a really long shelf life. I have friends in pharmaceutical companies and I'm a doctor myself.

  15. What is the mortality rate for expired drugs? I've never heard of a single person who died from taking expired aspirin.

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