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Just how expired is that veterinary drug in the window?

Posted Jan 20 2010 10:00pm

I’ve got this problem, you see. I collect and stockpile old drugs. It’s something I feel compelled to do whenever a med on our shelves goes past its expiration date. I’ve also been known to ask clients for their leftover tabs and caps after their pets have passed into the beyond. (Tactfully, of course.)

I know it sounds kind of tacky––not to mention borderline illegal––but I can’t seem to help myself. It’s just that to do otherwise seems so wasteful. I mean, picture it: a cardboard box full of purged bottles, each half-full. It’s a rattly festival of lifesaving compounds that––once the dreaded expiry date has arrived––no longer serve any legal function past (perhaps) so many makeshift maracas. 

Sad, right? That’s how I see it anyway. Think of Haiti. Think of Cuba. Think of our underfunded shelters. They’d save thousands more lives if they could only get their hands on a fraction of the drugs we throw out every year in this country. And that low-income pet owner whose big breed dog has a deep wound that requires $400 in antibiotics? That’s right, those “dead” drugs could have saved that life if they’d been judiciously applied.

It’s not as if the bottle of meds miraculously turns toxic on the stroke of midnight. It’s simply that we can no longer vouch for its accuracy. How much less well does it work? Hard to know. But it’s not uncommon for some drugs to be perfectly therapeutic to their original tune even five years down the road. 

Nevertheless, we don’t use drugs after their expiration dates in this country. Not usually, anyway. I’m not sure what happens to them all but I do know that some biologicals and meds (like the flu vax and doses of Tamiflu) get stockpiled post expiration for reasons of “national security.” Here in the veterinary world, however, we send all expired meds back to where they came from or dispose of them in appropriate containers. 

Or we pull a PK (me) and stash them away for "re-gifting."

Now, don’t get me wrong; I would never use expired drugs on my patients. It’s illegal. Period. But the rescue group down the street? At the homeless shelter’s pets-only clinic? The church-funded medical relief mission? My own pets? Perfectly legal to give them to these sources. (At least I assume it’s legal.)

Is the line gray? Yeah, sure. But I just can’t bear to throw the dang stuff away. That box of stockpiled drugs? It’s got a big happy face on it. If nothing else, it appeals mightily to the survivalist in me. 

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