November 25, 2022

Fall house cleaning – medicine and vitamin cabinets

Yes, it is that time of year when the change of seasons often prompts us to do a little seasonal cleaning. As we prepare for the coming vacation months, there is one area that we frequently overlook.

Let’s turn our attention to our medicine and vitamin cabinets. Yes, even vitamin supplements need to be kept up to date for us to get the best and safest results.

The first question most of us ask is quite simple: “Do we even have to pay attention to the expiration dates of drugs or vitamins?” There are several possible answers and they may surprise you.

All prescription drugs made in the United States must have an expiration date printed on the label. Additionally, almost all over the counter dietary supplements like vitamins and minerals often include an expiration date on the labels.

However, according to and other studies by universities and independent institutions, the expiration date isn’t exactly what we think it is. The irony about the expiration dates of the drugs and vitamins we take is that the expiration date only applies to unopened containers. Manufacturers apply this date to the opening of a container, even when it is the pharmacist who opens a larger container to sort a few pills for individual prescriptions. Manufacturers, due to liability issues, will not make recommendations on the stability of a drug after the expiration date stated on the original container once opened. This seems to be the main reason why most pharmacists set an expiration date of 12 months from the date you fill your prescription.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets guidelines for manufacturers to perform stability tests to determine how long their drugs will provide in the doses and results they want. Most independent testing agrees that manufacturers set an expiration date of 12 to 60 months from the date of manufacture.

Manufacturers cannot guarantee the stability of a medicine when they do not know how end users will store the medicine. So there is most likely a difference between the expiration date and the shelf life of a drug or supplement. However, since it is impossible for patients, doctors and pharmacists to account for how the medicine is handled from the manufacturer to the patient, it makes sense to track the expiration information of your medicines and supplements.

Eye drops and ear drops that contain a preservative can form unhealthy bacteria if stored past the expiration date.

Of course, EpiPens must be kept up to date in order to save the life of someone with life-threatening allergies. This is due to the instability of epinephrine, the main ingredient in EpiPens, because it breaks down so quickly.

What do we do with medicines that are expired or that we no longer need? (No, we can’t empty them or throw them in the trash.) Berthoud Drug has an expired drug drop box located at the back of the store. Most police stations also accept prescription drugs. Remember, it is safer to dispose of unused medications responsibly than to keep them around the house where they could do more harm than good.