I had a great question from a patient this month who was traveling south and wanted to know if the antibiotic she had which expired in 2011 was still good. Many of us have a medicine cabinet full of the medications that have gone past their expiry date. What to do with them. Are they safe? Are they effective? Should we pitch them and buy new replacements?
The US military had the same question but with much bigger stakes. The military stockpiles vast amounts of drugs for obvious reasons, and the expiry dates on the bottles forced them to face the option of throwing out an expensive pile of meds every few years. To figure out the best course, they commissioned a study to determine the safety and efficacy of expired drugs.
According to the study results, up to 90% of the 100 different medications they looked at were stable, safe and effective for up to 15 years after the expiry date. Drugs that didn’t have the shelf life? Nitroglycerin, insulin and liquid antibiotics.
What about our naturopathic products like supplements and herbal medicines? There has been no study like the one above, but it makes sense that much of the same would apply. Storing them properly in a cool, dark and dry place should help them keep their potency for many months past the date on the bottle. However, heat, light and moisture can absolutely affect the quality of vitamins–especially anti-oxidants–rendering them inactive.
And as for that bottle of antibiotics? It’s probably okay, but remember that your storage probably doesn’t meet military spec. If it’s an medication you’re counting on, you might need to replace it.