A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that EpiPens and EpiPen Jrs. still have enough potency to deliver a therapeutic dose four years past their expiration date.
The published result is welcome news for those who rely on the self-injecting drugs in case of adverse allergic reactions, especially since EpiPen and EpiPen Jr. prices have increased by almost 500 percent in the past eight years. But are expired EpiPens the only exception?
The quick answers are "no" and "it depends," but just how safe is it for people to take expired medicine? Read the short explanation below to understand what the deal is with medicines and expiration dates.
Expiration Dates Explained
Drug manufacturers are required by law to stamp expiration dates on their products, but it does not necessarily mean that a drug becomes ineffective once it reaches its expiration date. Food products begin to get spoiled upon reaching their expiration date but medicines usually remain safe to be taken.
The key word here is "usually" since some medicines truly lose potency after a certain period of time. Printed expiration dates, as a general rule, simply indicate the date in which manufacturers can guarantee the potency of their products. So if a consumer takes an expired medicine and their condition does not improve, the manufacturer reserves the right to say "we told you so."
It was not until 2001 when the U.S. Department of Defense launched the Shelf Life Extension Program, with the aid of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, that the true shelf life of medicines was pinned down.
After a thorough assessment of 122 drugs, 88 percent of the tested medicines were deemed safe to take even up to 66 months after the expiration date indicated on its label, which seems to be the case with EpiPen now.
Are Expired Drugs Safe To Take?
At present, there have been no reports of expired drugs being toxic to humans when taken. While toxicity is not an issue so far, drug potency remains the main concern.
Here is where the "it depends" comes in.
As a general rule, solid drugs such as tablets have a longer shelf life than other drugs, but it still depends on proper storage. Aspirin tablets can still be taken long after its expiration date - even up to 15 years - and will not pose a health threat, but medicines in liquid and suspension form need to be refrigerated to keep their potency. Injectables should be replaced once they show hints of becoming cloudy. In all cases, medicine should be kept in its original packaging.
So, yes, expired drugs can be safe to take but it depends if you followed instructions and stored them properly.
Of course, there are always exceptions.
Experts advise that patients who take medications to stay alive should not take the risk of taking expired medicine.
For instance, oral nitroglycerin has the tendency to quickly lose potency once the bottle is opened. Also, diabetics should never try using expired insulin because it is susceptible to degradation once it reaches its expiration date.
When in doubt, ask your pharmacist because they should know more and can advise accordingly.