Raspberries start to get that nice fuzzy jacket. Milk may develop a few sour-smelling curdles. That month-old, open bag of Doritos is probably chewy and stale. Sometimes, it is simple to tell when things are past their prime. When it comes to medicine, though, this may be harder to determine.
Many of us have reached that point where we were desperate for something in the medicine cabinet that turned out to be expired. Just this summer, I took some Claritin allergy medicine that was recently beyond its expiration date. A few questions instantly ran through my mind after doing so: Will I experience some terrible, disastrous side effect? Will the medicine merely not work as effectively? Will is work just fine?
Fortunately for me, I ran into no unusual side effects. However, after doing some research, I found that it would have been beneficial to my own health and current allergy situation if I took a non-expired version.
Drugs have expiration dates on them for a reason. Expiration dates serve to indicate the last day that a manufacturer will guarantee the full potency and safety of a medication. While some may say these dates can be on the conservative side, risks can still accompany consuming a medication past its expiration date. An over-the-counter antihistamine or pain reliever might not have an adverse effect, yet a heart or diabetes drug with a lowered potency may result in swift negative side effects. Furthermore, just because something is passed its expiration date and therefore may have a lowered potency, it is never a good idea to increase your typical dosage. It is hard to determine how much potency a drug may lose over time, and compensating for the lowered effectiveness may lead to harmful side effects.
Interestingly enough, studies by the Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP) through the federal Department of Defense have shown that many products may have a shelf life beyond their stated expiration date. In one SLEP assessment on over 3000 lots of military medications that represented 122 medications, 88% of the lots were cleared to extend expiration dates for an average of 66 months. Common drugs that stayed potent beyond their original expiration date included amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin, diphenhydramine, and more.
In the end, drug manufacturers and pharmacy experts alike have no way of ensuring your safety if you consume a drug past its posted expiration date. To be on the safe side, it is best to toss out the expired bottles of medication sitting in your cabinet. To ensure your medications do not deteriorate prematurely, get them out of the bathroom to a cool, dry place.
Disposal of Unwanted Medication
Because more and more studies are finding medications in public drinking supplies, it is ever more important to dispose of drugs properly. While the FDA does provide a list of medications that can be flushed down the toilet here, there is an even easier way to dispose of your medications safely right on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan! Both prescription and over-the-counter drugs can be brought to the 24-hour drop-box located in the entry of the IWU Security building at 110 E. Graham Street. Be sure to mark out your name, street address, or any personal information that may appear on the original packaging.
Think before you flush!
While it may not seem like a big deal to flush a few of your old medications down the toilet, when 300 million other Americans have drugs to dispose of as well, those traces of medications can add up. From antibiotics and mood stabilizers to acetaminophen and ibuprofen, prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs alike have appeared in public water supplies throughout the country.
Currently, there are no federal or state laws that require wastewater and drinking water plants to monitor or remove pharmaceutical compounds in the water supply. Even so, studies published in the journal of Environmental Pollution have found traces of drugs in large-size wastewater treatment plants nationwide. Medications used for lowering high blood pressure were found most frequently and in high concentrations.
While these medications are appearing in extremely tiny concentrations, scientists question what type of long-term effect traces of multiple pharmaceuticals in the drinking water might have on the humans and the environment. Research has already identified effects of pharmaceuticals on aquatic animals. One population of male fish began producing eggs in their genitals and the entire species ultimately led to extinction after exposure to small amounts of estrogen. The question now becomes: how might long-term, chronic exposure to small amounts of medications affect human health as well?
It only takes a few extra minutes to be mindful of where you are disposing your unwanted medications. If you have any questions about what to do with a specific medication, give Wellness a call at 556-3334.