Is it risky to take expired medication?

Is it risky to take expired medication?

When is the last time you cleaned out your medicine cabinet? According to a Consumer Reports study, approximately one-third of Americans haven’t cleaned out their medicine cabinet in the past year and almost one-fifth haven’t done so in the past three years.

If you haven’t recently inventoried your medications, you most likely have expired prescriptions mixed in with your current ones. It might seem like no big deal, but there are dangers associated with storing and taking expired medications.

“For your safety, expired medications should not be taken” says Dr. Ruchi Parikh, a family medicine physician with Advocate Health Care. “Every medication is different and there is no way to know by looking at an expired medication what will happen if you take it. It may not only be ineffective, but your body could have a minor or serious reaction to it.”

Dr. Parikh recommends cleaning your medicine cabinet monthly and she has a few tips for tackling this chore:

  1. Take inventory. Collect all medications from around your house to review them at once. This will ensure no medications are forgotten about or stored incorrectly.
  2. Review expiration dates and check condition. Remove all medications that are expired and place them in a bag labeled for disposal. Also, verify that all current medications are in good condition. Medications that aren’t properly sealed or have been stored in extreme cold or heat may be discolored, stuck together, or have an odor — discard these along with the expired ones. Medications that are unlabeled should also be placed in the disposal bag.
  3. Dispose of expired medication safely. Don’t toss your medications in the trash or flush them down the toilet. Dispose all medications at an authorized drug collection site, which includes many pharmacies. Remember to remove your personal information from the packaging before disposal.
  4. Properly store your current medication. Once you’ve finished going through your cabinet, safely store your current medication. This should be in a temperature-controlled location that is out of reach of children and pets.

Caring for your medicine cabinet will help keep you and your family safe. But if you do accidentally take an expired medication, don’t panic.

“Call your doctor. They will be able to provide specific information about the medication and can recommend what reactions to monitor for,” explains Dr. Parikh.

Are you trying to find a doctor? Look here if you live in Illinois. Look here if you live in Wisconsin. 

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About the Author

Elizabeth Blasko
Elizabeth Blasko

Elizabeth Blasko is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She studied public relations and nonprofit leadership at Western Michigan University. Elizabeth previously worked at Bernie's Book Bank, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing book ownership among underserved children.