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Drugs: How To Save Money When Buying Or Using

Drug Expiration Dates

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In theory, drug expiration dates are supposed to give you a date beyond which the drug could become harmful or ineffective.  In reality, manufacturer's expiration date on most medications is set at 2-3 years from when the pills were made. When pharmacies repackage medications, they usually label them with a recommended-use date one year from when the prescription is filled. This is the date consumers see. These dates serve to protect the pharmacies and manufacturers more than to tell you when the pills are no longer any good.

According to the Harvard Health Letter (July 2003):

  • Instances of pills becoming harmful are virtually unknown.
  • As to loss of potency (effectiveness): "Sitting in their vials in a dry, dark place like a medicine cabinet, most pills will stay effective for at least five years. Some medications have been shown to be stable as many as 30 years after they were made." 
  • Drugs in liquid form are not nearly as stable as those in capsules or tablets.

CAUTION:  If you want to use a drug beyond the expiration date on the container, speak with your doctor or pharmacist to find out whether:

  • The drug could harm you if you take it after the expiration date.
  • If the drug can't be harmful, what should you look for to determine whether it is no longer effective

NOTE: This caution is particularly true if the drug is used for a serious health condition.

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Drug Expiration Dates

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