There is a temptation among seniors to use medications past their expiration dates because of cost, lack of insurance or the necessity to visit a doctor to renew a prescription. So many people will not throw away their medications if they have extra on hand, or their doctor switches medication. This is most common for prescription medications.
The expiration date is by law the date the manufacturer guarantees full potency and safety of a drug. By the time the expiration date arrives, the drug can be less than 100% potent. It might not mean that the medication is harmful or is no longer effective. However, doctors caution not to use medication after the expiration date. While manufacturers can determine a medication’s shelf-life (the period a drug will last without deteriorating), they are not required to determine the actual drug potency and stability over that time.
Over time, medications can change their chemical and physical properties and therefore it is best to dispose of them upon the expiration date. Some may disintegrate, or liquids will separate into layers. While this may rarely happen with medications for minor conditions (headaches, cold medicines may be 90% effective even 10 years after their expiration date), some medications for serious conditions (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.) can be significantly less effective after the expiration date. Tablets, powders and capsules are much more stable than drugs in liquid form.
Here are some of the medicines that seniors should never use past their expiration date, because of the potential of severe consequences such as ineffectiveness:
- Sleep medications
- Eye drops (risk of bacteria contamination)
- Thyroid medicine
- Any drugs in liquid or suspension form
Beyond safety, there are other reasons for disposing of medicine in a timely and proper manner. As seniors age, it can get confusing as to which medication to take, and there may be harmful drug interactions if an expired medicine is taken without a doctor’s knowledge.
Here are some tips on storing and properly disposing of medicines.
- Make sure medications are stored in a safe place, and have a chart or other method that can be checked by the senior or caregiver when the medicine dose is given.
- Store medications in a cool, dry place out of the reach of children.
- Dispose of medications that are not needed. This not only prevents excess clutter, but prevents the wrong medication from being taken accidentally.
- Do not dispose of medicines by flushing them down the toilet as there is evidence that this can contaminate the water system. A better way for disposal is to take the medication out of its original container and mix it with other substances like kitty litter or dirt, put the mixture in a sealable bag and toss in the trash. These precautions help prevent children, pets and trash thieves from gaining access.
- Some states take back medications; contact your local pharmacist.
- Check medication labels for disposal instructions.
The in-home care specialists at Homecare Assistance of Fort Worth can help your senior identify expired medications and properly dispose of them.