New Evidence on Drug Expiration Dates

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Over the years, I have expressed my opinions on the bogus nature of the expiration dates stamped on medications in pill or capsule form. I have cited the findings of the Shelf Life Extension Program, a program meant to investigate the possible usefulness of the millions of doses of various expired medications stockpiled by FEMA for use in peacetime disasters.
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In my original article, The Truth About Expiration Dates 2 years ago, I indicated these findings were no longer available to the public. Now, a breakthrough scientific article has been published in the respected journal The Archives of Internal Medicine. Below is the article in its entirety, with important sections in bold type:

October 8, 2012 An analysis of 8 medications indicates that most of the active ingredients they contain were present in adequate amounts decades after the drugs expiration dates, according to results from a study published online October 8 in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Lee Cantrell, PharmD, from the California Poison Control System, San Diego Division, University of California San Francisco School of Pharmacy, and colleagues used liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry to measure the amounts of the active ingredients in the medications. The medicines, which had expired 28 to 40 years ago, were found in a retail pharmacy in their original, unopened packaging.
To meet US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards, an active ingredient must be present in 90% to 110% of the amount indicated on the label. Drug expiration dates are set for 12 to 60 months after production, even though many compounds can persist far longer.
In the new analysis, 12 of the 14 active ingredients persisted in concentrations that were 90% or greater of the amount indicated on the label. These 12 compounds retained their full potency for 336 months (Dr. Bones 28 years) or longer. Eight of them retained potency for at least 480 months (dr. bones: 40 years). Dr. Cantrells team was unable to find a standard for homatropine, 1 of the 15 ingredients.
Only aspirin and amphetamine fell below the 90% cutoff. Phenacetin was present at greater than the cutoff in Fiorinal (butalbital, aspirin, caffeine, and codeine phosphate, but was considerably less in Codempiral No. 3. The authors attribute the deficit in Codempiral to conditions that led to preferential degradation of phenacetin because of its amide group, compared with codeine, which is also in Codempiral but is more chemically stable.
Three compounds persisted in greater than 110% of the labeled contents: methaqualone (in Somnafac), meprobamate (in Bamadex), and pentobarbital (in Nebralin). These relatively high amounts may reflect degradation of other components of the compounded drug, the fact that the samples were produced before FDA-instituted quality control measures in 1963, or inconsistencies of the analytical techniques between when the drugs were compounded and now. The new findings are consistent with the efforts of the Shelf-Life Extension Program, which has extended the expiration dates on 88% of 122 drugs tested so far. Extensions range from 66 to 278 months.
Our results support the effectiveness of broadly extending expiration dates for many drugs, the researchers conclude. They also point out that extending shelf life can significantly lower costs to consumers.
Limitations of the analysis, the investigators write, include an inability to confirm the storage conditions of the drug samples, as well as imprecise dating of the samples. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
For the preparedness community, this information is very important, as it lends credence to what I have been telling you all along: Get your medical supplies together, and dont throw out drugs in pill or capsule form just because they have passed their expiration dates. We are anxiously awaiting lists of the 122 drugs that the Shelf Life Extension Program has tested, but you can expect them to be medications that will be useful in the aftermath of a catastrophe.

This important article was contributed by Dr. Joe Alton of the Doom and Bloom radio show and blog.

6 thoughts on “New Evidence on Drug Expiration Dates”

  1. I would like to issue a word of caution here: some medications’ active ingredient can have a toxic isomer (compound with the exact same chemical formula, but shaped differently) which is removed during the manufacturing process. However, the toxic isomer may be the more stable form of the active ingredient, and after X period of time (i.e. expiry date plus cushion factor), it will revert back to the toxic form. This can turn your medication not only ineffective, but dangerous as well. So if you are keeping medications past their due date, make sure you look into this risk.

  2. We have a family member who works in the drug industry, they recommended contact the make of the drug. Find out their expiration date and you do so by the product number on your packaging.
    If you do not want to go that route, purchase a wine cooler, and place your very expensive medications in there for longevity. I do not recall the length of time they will last, but it does keep them in a controlled environment.

  3. Mimi Mesher is correct. Educate yourself on the difference between Potency and Purity of a drug. Just because it meets the Potency criteria of 90% to 110% doesn’t mean that the Purity of the drug is safe to use. Some drugs are safe beyond the expiration date are and some aren’t. In an emergency we have to do what we got to do but taking expired drugs to save a few bucks is foolish.

  4. Drugs and food are nearly the same, know when to keep them and know when to dispose of them. We as a society have been pre-programmed by the producing companies to toss items when they are still of good quality. I am not saying to keep the medication if you believe it will cause you harm. I am simply stating a fact,the generation born after 60’s have been trained, if it has a “use by date” , and you have not used it, they throw it out.
    It shows you, must use your own mind and think for yourselves. I see to many who look like they are pre-programmed in the mornings by their TV’s or other devices. Makes me wonder what is going on with their logic.

  5. We live outside the city, and recently my daughter had vomiting after a major surgery. (They probably shouldn’t have sent her home, but that is another story!) It was the middle of the night, she was getting more and more dehydrated and the only open pharmacy was an hour away. We called the urgent care line and they ask what we had there at the house. I had a medication for vomiting that was rectal that I had saved, the expiration date was over 10 years ago. I was shocked when the R.N. told us to use it. Her vomiting stopped, and she didn’t have to go into the ER for an IV. From now on I am keeping all drugs for the just in cast situation.

  6. Keep the medication, it may save your or your loved ones life. Asfor people who want to toss stuff go right ahead
    BTW have read that that there are no instances of drugs gaining potency with age. Think how odd that would be? Pharma could just leave codeine on a shelf & show upin 10 years and get MORE codeine them they started with.
    So no increasing dosent occur if anything a slight decrease after many years. That s my take & i am an RN

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