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The Myth of Expiration Dates on Drugs and Prescription Meds

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: November 20, 2020
The Myth of Expiration Dates on Drugs and Prescription Meds

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In the aftermath of disaster, you evacuate your home with your family and your bug-out bag.  For one reason another, you overlooked swapping out your three year old medications and now are faced with a dilemma.  Are they still safe to use?

I am not a medical professional but everything that I have read says, yes, they are not only safe but that the expiration dates on drugs as printed or stamped on those bottles represent more of a CYA for the manufacturers than any thing else.

Myth of Expiration Dates on Drugs - Backdoor Survival

According to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide:

Most of what is known about drug expiration dates comes from a study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration at the request of the military. With a large and expensive stockpile of drugs, the military faced tossing out and replacing its drugs every few years. What they found from the study is 90% of more than 100 drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, were perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date.

So the expiration date doesn’t really indicate a point at which the medication is no longer effective or has become unsafe to use. Medical authorities state expired drugs are safe to take, even those that expired years ago. A rare exception to this may be tetracycline, but the report on this is controversial among researchers. 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. Placing a medication in a cool place, such as a refrigerator, will help a drug remain potent for many years.

Is the expiration date a marketing ploy by drug manufacturers, to keep you restocking your medicine cabinet and their pockets regularly? You can look at it that way.

Those are pretty strong words don’t you think?  Marketing ploy, restocking their pockets?  Given my ongoing suspicion of big pharma, I have always doubted those one year expiration dates on prescription drugs and have for the most part, disregarded them.

Travatan with Expiration Date

As a matter of fact, when I asked my eye doctor about the shelf life of the drops I take for glaucoma, he said “forever”.  And yet, as you can see, an expiration date is clearly stamped on the package.

11 Facts About Expiration Dates on Prescription Drugs

1.  The expiration date on the package or bottle is only a guideline and is often meaningless.

The expiration date is the manufacturer’s guarantee. It does not indicate a point when a medication loses potency and is no longer effective or becomes harmful.

2.  A drug loses potency the day it is manufactured.  There is no magic date when is suddenly looses its effectiveness.

3. Solid dosage forms, such as tablets and capsules, are the most stable past their expiration date. Drugs that exist in solution or as a reconstituted suspension may not have the required potency if used when outdated.

4. Drugs in liquid form (solutions, suspensions) are not as stable as solid dosage forms (tablet, powder, capsule).

5.  Contrary to common belief, there is little scientific evidence that expired drugs are toxic. There are virtually no reports of toxicity from degradation products of outdated drugs.

6.  Any liquid injectable that has become cloudy or discolored may not be safe and should be discarded.

7.  Storage conditions matter.  The enemies of food are also the enemies of drugs: light, oxygen, moisture, and extreme temperatures will affect the stability of all medications.

8.  Appearance counts.  If the drugs look or smell odd, don’t take them.  So, for example, do not use tablets that are crumbling, or suspensions that remain separate despite vigorous shaking.  If it is suspicious, do not use it.

9.  Certain medications are known to have a short shelf life including nitroglycerin, insulin, liquid antibiotics, and epinephrine.  In addition, tetracycline is known to become toxic after a period of time.

10.  If you are taking life-sustaining medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist about the true shelf life.  If you are in doubt, stock up on those life-sustaining drugs to the exclusion of others.

11.  Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.  There are some wild claims out there so take the time to do your research now, while you still have time.

What about over-the-counter drugs?

Let me put it this way.  If your life does not depend on it – say you have a headache or common cold and want relief – take the expired over-the-counter medication and be done with it.  Or better yet, seek an herbal or other natural remedy such as essential oils (try lavender).


The Final Word

As anyone who has spent some time in the military will tell you, outdated drugs exist and have been used on an everyday basis for years.  That said, you are on your own.  Do your own research and don’t trust my word for it. I am not a medical professional and do not know your particular medical condition.

On the other hand, you may be are kicking yourself for throwing away all of those “expired” prescription meds over the years.  Alas, there is no looking back, only forward.  If you have a drawer full of expired meds, consider sorting through them now to determine whether they will be useful down the road.  And if you decide to keep them, make sure they are stored in a cool, dry place that is away from direct sunlight.  Consider them precious, if not for yourself, than for someone else in a barter situation.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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Spark Naturals Essential Oils: The “Health and Wellness Kit” comes packaged in a tin and includes a brochure with suggested uses for each of the oils. It includes all of my favorites, including Lemon, Frankincense, Oregano, Melaleuca (Tea Tree), Rosemary, Lavender, Amend (Soothing Blend), Respire (Respiratory Blend), Shield (Protective Blend), and Peppermint.  Use the discount code  “BACKDOORSURVIVAL” to receive a 10% discount.

Quikclot Sport Brand Advanced Clotting Sponge: A must for any first aid or emergency kit, Quikclot Sport stops moderate to severe bleeding until further medical help is available.

Israeli Battle Dressing, 6-inch Compression Bandage: This is another inexpensive, yet critical item. Combat medics, trauma doctors, and emergency responders all recommend this Israeli Battle Dressing (IBD) for the treatment of gunshot wounds, puncture wounds, deep cuts, and other traumatic hemorrhagic injuries.

Where There Is No Doctor: Hesperian’s classic manual, Where There Is No Doctor, is perhaps the most widely-used health care manual in the world.

The Survival Medicine Handbook: A Guide for When Help is Not on the Way: This book will teaches how to deal with all the likely medical issues you will face in a disaster situation, and including strategies to keep your family healthy even in the worse scenarios. It covers skills such as performing a physical exam, transporting the injured patient, and even how to suture a wound. This medical reference belongs in every survival library.

Vigilant Trails First Aid Kit: This kit is very popular with BDS readers. It contains 72 pieces of high quality first aid products and is equipped to help you manage minor cuts, abrasions, rashes, burns, insect bites, allergies, upset stomach, headaches, body aches, blisters, infections, mild dehydration, chapped skin and lips and exposure to poisonous plants containing Urushiol Oil (Poison Oak, Ivy and Sumac). Housed in a small crush proof plastic container, measuring just 5″ X 3.5 ” X 1 7/8″.


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Storing Rice in Mylar Bag_09


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45 Responses to “The Myth of Expiration Dates on Drugs and Prescription Meds”

  1. I take insulin regularly. I have been taking insulin since 1995 I only take Novolin 70/30. I always keep it refrigerated. Right now, ( Aug 2019), I’m taking insulin dated July 2015 – works as advertised with NO problems. Many years ago, I heard about a WWII military warehouse found full of drugs. Rather than discard them, a medical officer had them tested and found them still potent and effective – so they were reissued. Have been a non-believer in expiration dates ever since.

  2. Another drug, that is usually claimed to not work, is insulin. There have been a couple instances over the last few years, while waiting on insulin from the VA, (And I can only claim this with Humalog, and Lantus) that I’ve used because I had no other choice three and sometimes four years after their expiration date. And these were not refrigerated, either. They still worked, and kept me from ketoacidosis.

    A big disclaimer: supposedly this expiration date is because of the possibility of infection. Maybe I am just weird, but I have not ONCE gotten sick from doing this. Yet I would only do it if it was an emergency. Ive had that kind of emergency more than a few times. Back to disclaimer, maybe I got lucky, maybe I’m weird.
    But I would only recommend doing this if you had no other option.

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