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Do drugs have an expiration date?
The word ‘expired’ suggests that something has come to an end, and in the case of passports and food it usually indicates that a replacement is required. The same concept applies to the use of expired medications.
All over-the-counter and prescription medications have an expiry date. However, the shelf-life of illegal substances like cocaine, heroin, and party drugs is unknown. Taking any expired substance, whether legal or illicit, can have unfortunate consequences.
The Risks of Taking Expired Medication
All drugs have unique formulations which include both their active and inactive ingredients. These formulations determine how effective the medication is in treating certain diseases, conditions, and symptoms. Once a drug is developed, manufacturers determine its ‘shelf-life’, this is the length of time it will last without deteriorating. If a medication is used within its shelf-life, you can expect maximum efficacy in the treatment of your condition.
Medications such as antibiotics are given expiry dates due, in part, to the possibility of bacterial growth which can affect their ability to successfully treat infections. The change in chemical composition in any expired medication can cause them to become less effective and even lead to adverse reactions depending on what you’re taking. If you’re taking expired medications, you are increasing the risk of developing resistance to antibiotics, meaning that your condition could ultimately deteriorate.
Once the expiration date has passed there is no guarantee that the medicine is safe for consumption and therefore it is always recommended that expired medication be disposed of safely. Failing to get rid of old medications can often lead to dangerous drugs, like opioids, falling into the wrong hands.
If you find that your medication is still within the expiration date, but looks different in any way, smells different, or tastes different from the way it did when you first started taking it, you should seek advice from a pharmacist before continuing your course.
Expiry Date vs Use-by Date
The expiration date is always found on the packaging or label of any medication, and usually says: expiry, expiry date, expires, exp, exp date. These dates are added to medication labels by the manufacturers or the pharmacist who supplies the medicine, as an indicator that this medication may not be safe for consumption past this time.
If your medicine has a use-by date instead of an expiry date, this usually means that you should not take the medicine after the end of the previous month. For example, if the use-by date is September 2021, you should not be taking this medication after 30th August 2021.
Expiration dates can often be disregarded if a doctor or pharmacist gives you conflicting instructions about using or disposing of your medicine. For example, if your medication says “should be discarded within five days of opening” then you should follow this advice
Any remaining medication can be returned to your pharmacist and disposed of if you’re unable to do so safely.
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What Will Happen if I Take Expired Medication?
Many people continue taking medication past their suggested expiry dates, and while they may be doing so negligently, they simply may also not understand the risks of doing so.
The answer to this question varies based on which medication you’re referring to. Medications contain different active ingredients depending on what they treat, some of which may react badly when left in certain temperatures for long periods.
Not only will this affect the efficacy of the medication, but in some cases, it could even exacerbate pain, rather than relieve it. Medications that have expired can also create further complications if you’re already vulnerable and can give rise to other illnesses.
In worst-case scenarios, expired medicines can negatively impact the kidneys and liver. If the expired medication causes an adverse reaction that affects your metabolism, you may even experience lowered immunity as a result. It is recommended that you always check the expiry date before the consumption of medicine. It is best to throw away any expired medicine, in order to keep yourself safe and healthy.
What About Illicit Drugs?
Fake medicines or illicit drugs can be dangerous for a number of reasons, even more so if they expire. Many controlled drugs are often falsified or deliberately mislabelled and sold as other medications. Illegal drugs contain the wrong active ingredients while some fake medicines are often found to include mercury, arsenic, rat poison, or cement. Sometimes, these drugs may be genuine but have expired due to being stored incorrectly. This means they could be ineffective or contaminated.
However, the most common recreational drugs such as amphetamines, and the substances derived from them (speed, crystal meth, and MDMA) have a long shelf life and are considered particularly stable. Their effects can last for many years, unlike drugs derived from plants (cocaine) which may deteriorate quickly.
As outlined above, the two main issues associated with expired medication are their potential to weaken in efficacy, which renders them useless for fighting illnesses. This could directly result in health problems not being effectively treated. Expiration dates are included on packaging for a reason, and it is recommended that you discard all expired medications. In doing so, check with your local pharmacy to see if they have medication disposal receptacles. Flushing unused or expired medications down the toilet isn’t recommended as there is a possibility they could contaminate the water system.
Getting Help for Drug Addiction
Drug addiction is a progressive disease, one that can escalate rapidly. Getting help as soon as you’re ready can help prevent yourself and others from coming into serious harm.
At CATCH Recovery, our consultants and psychotherapists have specialist knowledge and experience when it comes to treating addiction. Once you’re ready to find recovery, our addiction clinic based in South West London will be ready to facilitate your journey.
If for whatever reason, you’re unable to travel to the South East of England, we also offer remote therapies and counselling sessions. Alternatively, you can call our admissions team who may be able to refer you to a more suitable clinic elsewhere in the UK and Ireland.