Are Expired Drugs Still Effective?

Ed. Note: I sure hope so…I’ve been relying on them for years.

By Brian Palmer

Georgia executed a murderer on Tuesday with drugs that may have been past their expiration date. The state purchased its supply of sodium thiopental—designed to anesthetize a patient during the lethal-injection procedure—from an obscure, and unlicensed, British company. As if that weren’t sufficiently dodgy, the drug, which has a shelf life of just one year when made in the United States, was manufactured in 2006. Are drugs effective past their expiration dates?

Usually, yes. At the behest of the Pentagon, the Food and Drug Administration launched the Shelf Life Extension Program in 1985 to determine whether the military’s massive stockpile of expired drugs had become ineffective. The study, first made public by the Wall Street Journal in 2000, showed that 90 percent of drugs maintained stability—that is, their chemical constituents did not degrade or change substantially—well past their expiration dates. Some drugs were good for a decade after expiring.

The Journal‘s report, in which one expert claimed that conservative dates were an industry trick to increase turnover, has spurred significant Internet skepticism over expiration dates. But before you go tossing back vintage Tylenol, consider a couple of caveats. There was surprising variability in the FDA study. Sometimes different batches of the same drug lost efficacy at very different times for unknown reasons. In addition, the Pentagon stores its multimillion-dollar stockpile of medications under controlled temperature, humidity, and light conditions. Your medicine cabinet doesn’t offer an ideal storage environment. And some classes of drugs, like biologics and insulin, are especially likely to spoil. Accordingly, the FDA continues to recommend that you throw away your expired medications.

Complete article via Slate

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