Expiry dates on medicine

Once medication has reached the expiry date, is it still safe to use or should you dispose of it immediately?

A study done by the Food and Drug Administration in the USA has found that 90% of both prescription and over the counter drugs are perfectly good to use, even a decade after the expiry date. The drugs tested, however, were still unopened in their original containers.  (Shelf life may decline once opened.)

As a general rule of thumb, it appears as if solid dosage forms, such as tablets and capsules, are more stable past their expiry dates, while drugs that exist in a solution or suspension may lose their potency after the expiry date and become a health concern.

The expiry date is used by drug manufacturers to guarantee the full potency and safety of the drug at a specific time in the future. It does not necessarily mean a date after which the medication becomes ineffective or no longer safe to use.  The expiry date is usually very conservative.  There are exceptions where the expiry date is important, such as for nitroglycerin, insulin, liquid antibiotics and other drugs in solutions.  Storing medication in a refrigerator contributes to longevity.

When in even the slightest doubt, speak to a pharmacist, especially when the medication concerned is essential for a chronic and potentially life threatening disease.




“Drug expiration dates – Do they mean anything?” Published 2 September 2015 in The Family Health Guide by Harvard Medical School.

“Drug expiration dates – Are they still safe to take?” Published online 10 February 2014 on (A major independent medicine information website, based in the USA.)

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