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What You Need to Know About Using Old Drugs for Survival

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: November 24, 2020
What You Need to Know About Using Old Drugs for Survival

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When it comes to survival medicine, I make no claim of being an expert.  I am, after all, a mere layman with no medical training.  On the other hand, I do possess a good deal of common sense so when something seems a bit off, I do my own research and make decisions based upon data and not upon supposition.

Something that has always been “off” to me are expiration dates on pharmaceuticals.  Why is it that drugs always expire exactly one year after the date they were filled?  The truth, as I wrote about in The Myth of Expiration Dates on Drugs and Prescription Meds, is that those expiration dates are often bogus.

What You Need to Know About Using Old Drugs for Survival | Backdoor Survival

In that article, I referenced the following statement from the 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.

The question of whether outdated drugs are viable beyond their expiration date is a heated topic within the prepper community.  I get that because there are some medications that absolutely should not be taken when they are old and expired.  Some common examples include nitroglycerin, insulin, liquid antibiotics, and epinephrine but there are others.

Still, if the choice is to take an old, outdated medicine or die, I know what I would do.

In order to continue the discussion, and to shed further light on the myth of expiration dates, I am sharing an article by contributing author, Joe Alton.  Joe, also known as Dr. Bones, is a medical doctor who is well versed in survival medicine.  Here is his take on using old drugs for survival purposes.

Straight Talk About Expiration Dates

Years ago, I wrote an article about the truth relating to expiration dates on medications. Lately, I’ve seen some confusing information on the internet that tells you how dangerous they are while telling you that, in a survival scenario, you should probably use them. So I think it’s time to set the record straight with regards to expiration dates on medications.

Before I start, I want to tell you that my focus is medical preparedness for major disasters and long-term survival. That means a strategy of putting together stockpiles of supplies that might save a life in times of trouble.

Now, what you need to know.

Expiration dates were first mandated in the us in 1979.

They are the last day that a drug company will guarantee 100% potency of a medicine. These medicines do not, by and large, become toxic after the expiration date. I promise you that you will not grow a horn in the middle of your forehead if you take a pill the week after it expires.

In many cases, drugs in pill, powder, or capsule form will be 100% potent for years after their expiration date. How do I know this?  FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Department of Defense stockpiles millions of doses of medications used in emergency settings. In the past, when those drugs expired, they were discarded.

This gets to be pretty expensive, so a study was performed called the shelf life extension program, something I first wrote about years ago. This program found that most medications, as long as they are in pill or capsule form, were still effective after their expiration dates, sometimes for years.  As such, I recommended not throwing them away but, instead, making them part of your survival medical storage.

This, by the way, was not the case for medicines in liquid form. They lost potency quickly after their expiration dates, so are not useful for long-term survival settings.

These findings led the government to put out extensions of expiration dates for certain drugs as needed, such as the 5 year extension given the anti-viral drug Tamiflu during the 2009 swine flu epidemic.

Despite this, you’ll see quotes, often from academic types, that medications are dangerous when expired and should be tossed. These opinions are fine in normal times, but if you’re reading this article, you’re probably a member of the preparedness community or at least interested in the subject. You might even be the person that would be medically responsible in situations when the rescue helicopter is heading the other way.

Good, you’re exactly who I want to talk to since you may one day have to make a decision in a true disaster setting about whether or not to use an expired medication.

Let’s say a loved one is fading from an infection. Something bad has happened and you’re off the grid with little or no hope of getting to modern medical care. You have an expired bottle of antibiotics. What are you going to do? Someone you love is dying. Are you going to use the expired drug or not? Exactly.

Of course, medicines should be stored in cool, dry, dark conditions. Their potency will fade twice as fast if stored at 90 degrees as if stored at 50 degrees. Freezing them, however, is rarely helpful. Even if stored in suboptimal conditions, a capsule or tablet that hasn’t changed color or consistency is probably still worth keeping for austere settings.

Sometimes, in a true disaster, the issues that will facing the medically responsible will be very basic.

What’s the problem? Do I have medicine that will treat it? Could this medicine, although it has expired, possibly save a life? When it comes down to it, can you really choose to not use it to prevent a death because it may possibly have side effects or not be quite as strong as it was?

I say: In this situation, don’t withhold a drug because some professors said it wasn’t a good idea to use it. Believe me, they weren’t seriously considering a time when an expired medication might be the only option you have left.

Let’s hope it never gets to that point, but preparing for the worst, while hoping for the best isn’t a bad strategy to deal with the uncertain future.

The Final Word

In our heart of hearts, we would never purposely do harm to a loved one.  Talking that one step further, we would do everything we could to ensure their health and their safety when the chips are down.

These days, my own preference is to use herbal remedies and essential oils to take care of my loved one’s health care needs.  But in times of distress, who can predict what we will have available following a disaster or other disruptive event?  For that reason, I have stockpiled old, no longer used drugs.  This includes both prescription and over-the-counter meds.  They are tucked away with many of my other “I hope to never have to use” preps.  The only cost to keeping them is the space they take and what the heck?  Why wouldn’t I do that?

I know I have said this before but it bears repeating:  knowledge is power and the best piece of survival gear you will ever own is the gray matter between your ears.  Read and study as much as you can about survival medicine and always, use common sense.

To read more from Joe and his wife Amy, you can visit their website at  There you will find hundreds of articles related to medical preparedness in wilderness, disaster, or other austere settings.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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Spotlight:  The Survival Medicine Handbook: A Guide for When Help is Not on the Way:

This book teaches how to deal with all the likely medical issues you will face in a disaster situation, 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.

Below you will find the items related to today’s article.

Prepper’s Natural Medicine: Life-Saving Herbs, Essential Oils and Natural Remedies for When There is No Doctor:  This is a fantastic book from fellow blogger, Cat Ellis.  In it you will learn that natural remedies are not voodoo but rather, natures way of healing without the use of toxic chemicals and additives.  Highly recommended.

Spark Naturals Essential Oils: I use essential oils from Spark Naturals exclusively.  They are high quality yet reasonably priced.  In addition, there are no membership fees and a distributor relationship is not necessary to get best pricing. Interested in checking them out? Backdoor Survival readers get a 10% discount by using coupon code BACKDOORSURVIVAL at checkout!

NOW Foods Essential Oils:  I use essential oils from Spark Naturals.  For healing purposes, I feel they are superior.  On the other hand, NOW Foods has decent essential oils at a budget price.  Here are a few to get you started:  NOW Foods Rosemary Oil, NOW Foods Peppermint Oil, and Now Foods Lavender Oil.

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.

Living Ready Pocket Manual – First Aid: Fundamentals for Survival:  Whether you are miles from help or immersed in an urban disaster situation, every second counts during a medical emergency. This book will help you take quick, effective action to stabilize the situation. One of the best things about this book (other than the information, of course) is it’s size.  It is small enough to keep in your bug-out-bag and also in your first aid kit.


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16 Responses to “What You Need to Know About Using Old Drugs for Survival”

  1. I would really like to hear what Dr. Alton has to say about the use of animal antibiotics for human shtf situations. My research indicates that are safe but I’m wondering about proper dosage. Many thanks for bringing him onboard.

  2. Somewhat related, I had an eye doctor appt this morning. She’s a sweet, “normal” doctor so I let her know that I wear my contacts two months rather than the prescribed one month. She did explain the why (possibility of a lack of oxygen getting to the eye, etc.)…but went on to say that the manufacturer says one month so they have to tell the patient use for only one month (or, I’m sure, whatever one’s particular contact life is). It behoves me to keep a few back ….as well as spread them out over time… For the “just in case.”

  3. I have family members with Type 1 diabetes, insulin dependent. Insurance dictates how much insulin she can receive monthly. In an emergency pharmacy may be entirely out anyway. Since insulin is liquid and needs some refridgeration in most forms sounds like the best bet is to seek forgiveness and be faithful to the end, in this case sooner not later. Can you please correct me? I would love to be wrong about this.

    • After reading your comment, I have been in touch with Dr. Joe Alton who has agreed to address Type 1 Diabetes in an article for Backdoor Survival. I know from reading a lot of survival fiction that the outcome of an EMP will be devastating to those that require insulin. Let us hope it never gets to that.

  4. This applies to dry medications. I would avoid taking any liquid medicines well after expiration dates. It’s possible tinctures have longevity but I don’t know if they’ve been tested.

    Also avoid dry tablets if they’ve broken down.

  5. I have used Herbals and essential oils to positive effect.. That said, not everyone has the same level of tolerance for all Herbal preparations or tinctures. It’s a good idea to try them before you need them. I had one VERY notable reaction some years ago, that was atypical of most.

    • Herbals and essential oils especially are highly concentrated and definitely should be used in a controlled situation (i.e. before SHFT) to learn how your body reacts to them. I find it interesting that EOs that work for my husband do not work for me and visa versa.

  6. Good article… Another item that people may not be aware of (FDA hates this) is MMS solution. Jim Humble… stumbled upon this several yrs back. It is nothing more than a form of Salt, sodium chlorite. It is a must have w/your other medicinal items. You might be able to still find it on site. This is an awesome product to have on hand. I found it at keaveys corner in Sebring Fl.
    BEWARE, the Federal Death ASSoc Reeally hates this product because 1. it WORKS 2. they can’t paton salt.

    • Normally I would just roll my eyes and ignore such a posting, but my conscience says otherwise. The comments by “R” are at best naive, and dangerous at worst.
      First point, I have never worked for the FDA, and am no longer a chemist in the pharmaceutical industry. I did, however, work as a chemist for 15 years, 11 years in the pharmaceutical industry, before changing careers.
      MMS, Miracle Mineral Supplement is indeed a solution of sodium chlorite, which is A salt. BUT, it is not another form of Salt, implying table salt or sodium chloride, which of course we require for proper health. Sodium chlorite is not safe since ingesting or injecting this chemical can lead to grave consequences. React sodium chlorite with some mild acids (like hydrochloric acid in your stomach), and you get chlorine dioxide, a good but quite toxic bleaching agent. No Thanks!
      Also, the FDA does not own any rights or patents for drugs, nor does it approve patents for drugs. What the FDA does is verify drug (and device) efficacy and safety through a very scientific and rigorous process imposed on manufacturers submitting such claims, while seeking approval for sale in the USA. Furthermore, the FDA regulates and enforces the safe manufacture (adherence to GMP – Good Manufacturing Process), distribution, accurate labeling and expiration dating of food and drugs. The agency and the process are not perfect, but they are on par with the best on the planet. R’s disparaging comments beg the question, would you rather take identically labelled medicine that was made in China or India over medicine made in the USA. I doubt it. Their drug manufacturing controls are decades behind Europe and the USA. I can only guess the basis for R’s comments are rooted in some anti-federal statement. Or perhaps a rant against the cost of drugs in the US, which, by the way, the FDA has nothing to do with and does not suggest nor approve anything at all with drug pricing. That’s completely up to the manufacturers.
      The FDA’s primary, and truly its only function, is consumer safety. Take the FDA out of the loop, and you will only be able to buy snake oil. Use at your own risk!

  7. Great info….and makes complete, practical sense. So much is done to protect the manufacturer/company anyway. Have you done a similar article on food? If so, could you provide a link? If not, would you consider it!!?? =) Thanks for a great read.

    • I’m a retired pharma rep and I promise you it’s mainly to limit liability. I keep drugs in a cool dark cupboard to discourage heat or light “aging”.

  8. Great article and thank you so much for addressing something that has been weighing on me and as you stated the prepper community for a long time. One question, why would epinephrine be something not to take after expiration? My son has allergies and I am assuming the epi-pen would fall under that category and that worries me. Can you elaborate please?

    • After reading your comment, I found this study online: //

      Here is what it says:

      CONCLUSIONS: For prehospital treatment of anaphylaxis, we recommend the use of EpiPen and EpiPen Jr autoinjectors that are not outdated. If, however, the only autoinjector available is an outdated one, it could be used as long as no discoloration or precipitates are apparent because the potential benefit of using it is greater than the potential risk of a suboptimal epinephrine dose or of no epinephrine treatment at all.

      So, if using an outdated epi-pen is your only option in a survival situation, then by all means, use it. Better to have a 50% chance of living than a 100% chance of dying IMO.

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