Your Medications Are Expired. Now What?

Expired meds may be dangerous when taken or disposed of improperly

(RxWiki News) Most people check the expiration date on their milk carton before taking a big gulp. But what about the expiration dates found in their medicine cabinet?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement warning consumers of the dangers tied to taking and improperly disposing of expired medications. To avoid these dangers, the FDA encourages consumers to take stock of any expired drugs and dispose of them thoughtfully.

Today is National Check Your Meds Day. Here is what you need to know.

Why Dispose of Expired Medications?

Although some people may think holding on to expired medications is harmless or even smart thinking, the FDA stresses that keeping drugs past their expiration dates can be dangerous for both patients and their communities.

The stability of medication is affected by exposure to light, as well as temperature and humidity. Manufacturers only test a drug's stability through its expiration date. That means some medications meant to treat acute or even life-threatening conditions could lose their potency and not work past their expiration dates.

People in the US also abuse prescription drugs at alarming rates, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). And many of the abused drugs, which often result in accidental overdose, are obtained from the medicine cabinets of family and friends.

What's the Best Way to Dispose of Expired Drugs?

The FDA and DEA agree that the ideal way to dispose of expired drugs is to deliver them to a take-back program, such as the yearly National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day coordinated by the DEA. If one of these programs is not available, there are other ways to safely dispose of expired drugs.

If you miss the take-back day or cannot make it, placing the medication in cat litter or used coffee grounds is an option. The FDA recommends that, when using this method, consumers should mix the drug with the litter or dirt and place the mixture in a sealable bag in the trash. The FDA also recommends scratching out the information on the empty bottle’s label before throwing it away.

Although some may advocate flushing expired drugs down the toilet, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says medications are an emerging contaminant in our waterways and could negatively affect aquatic life. The FDA's opinion differs from the EPA on this matter, saying that certain medications should be flushed due to the risk of possible ingestion by children and the potential for abuse. A full list of these medications can be found on the FDA's website.

How Can Premature Expiration Be Avoided?

The manner in which medications are stored is extremely important to the drugs retaining their potency. Most drugs have storage recommendations on their labels, which should be followed to ensure they remain safe. According to the FDA, most medications should be stored in a cool, dry place away from sunlight, such as a dresser drawer, closet shelf or kitchen cabinet. This means you should not store medications in a medicine cabinet in a restroom where it can become steamy during a bath or shower.

Even when your unexpired drugs are stored in a safe manner, examine their appearance before taking them. If you notice the medication has changed color, has an odor, or is chipped or soft, experts recommend disposing of it. Furthermore, if the liquid in capsules stays separated after shaking or if injectable drugs appear solid, they should be disposed of.

If you suspect your medication is no longer safe to take but are not sure, you can always ask your local pharmacist to confirm.