The Importance of Expiration Dates

All pharmaceutical drugs are designed to create some type of beneficial effect in the body, whether to alleviate a headache or reduce inflammation. Different drugs are efficient in different ways, but all drugs have specific instructions that dictate when users should take them. Among the guidelines for these drugs are expiration dates, which suggest that there is a certain window of time within which users should take their drug. So what does it mean if the expiration date has passed? What if the user reaches into their cabinet and finds that the drug they need has expired a year ago? What happens to the efficacy of the drug? Are its effects potentially reversed? Will the drug simply do nothing? 

As a result of a law that was passed in 1979, all drug manufacturers must keep consumers informed with an expiration date. This date is designed to guarantee the intended safety and potency of the drug in question. While this liability fail-safe exists for pharmaceutical companies, a military study found out that 90 percent of over 100 different types of drugs were still good to use after as much as 15 years past the expiration date.

The results of this study show that the expiration date is no real indicator of when drugs become no longer safe or effective to use. Many medical authorities also claim that expired drugs are still safe to take, even those that have expired several years ago. Excluding a few drugs, such as insulin and liquid antibiotics, almost all other medications are long-lasting and effective, and keeping medications stored in a cool place can help them retain their potency for years.

While some may feel as though the expiration date is designed as a marketing ploy to keep pharmaceuticals in circulation, there are advantages to using the drug before its expiration date. Expiration dates are designed to give users a basic time frame during which the drug is the most potent. Manufacturers do not have a great deal of time to continue testing the lifespan of the drug, as they are constantly improving formulations to provide users with better results.

When in doubt, consumers are urged to speak with their medical professionals to learn more about whether or not they can still take their medications. For certain drugs, it is crucial to have 100 percent efficiency, and speaking with a doctor can help users determine whether the drug is still as effective as needed.