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Are expired medications dangerous?

All drugs, whether they’re over-the-counter or prescribed by a doctor, have expiration dates. Many people question whether drugs that have expired are still as effective or if they pose a threat when taken. The following information sheds some light on the thinking behind drug expiration dates, so you can make an informed decision on your health and well-being.

According to Drugs.com, the real problem with expired drugs lies in decreased potency. Many types of drugs, such as pills including capsules and tablets, actually remain quite stable beyond their expiration date. Additionally, studies have confirmed that certain drugs do retain potency for many years. Testing on behalf of the military, which typically has large stockpiles of medicines that aren’t always used before expiration, showed that amoxicillin and ciprofloxacin, two common antibiotics, showed no failures post-expiration, and for as long as 15 years in some cases.

However, loss of potency with expired drugs is a real concern. Epinephrine, which comes in an injectable solution used for severe allergic reactions, should be replaced after expiration to ensure it's effective in a life-threatening situation (although health care professionals recommend using the expired solution if no others are available). The same can be said for insulin, which is used to keep blood sugar in check. Degradation may impact its ability to do so, which can lead to dangerous spikes in glucose levels.

Other drugs may actually prove hazardous after so long. A common example is tetracycline, which is another antibiotic. Although many researchers are still in debate, in the 60s this drug was linked to serious kidney damage when taken post-expiration. Certain types of solutions are also susceptible to bacterial growth over time. Eye drops are a key example in this case, and using drops contaminated with harmful substances may lead to significant eye damage.

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