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When Do Drugs Really Expire?

Posted Jan 13 2011 10:30am

A growing body of studies assert that many medicines remain safe, effective and stable for years beyond government-approved expiration dates set by drugmakers and pharmacists. The leading evidence comes from a U.S. Food and Drug Administration program that tests drugs for the military. The results through July 2006: 88 percent of tested medicines remained potent for at least a year past expiration, some for up to 14 years. Expiration dates are set by the manufacturer and approved by the FDA based on company tests of a drug. The company guarantees the product will be at least 90 percent potent until the expiration date. Most drugs get a one- or two-year life. Drugmakers can ask to extend the expiration if they test the drug further. But companies seldom do, industry officials said, because the tests take money and time, and do not lead to extra sales. So, while aspirin is marked to expire in two or three years, Bayer has found its pills to be 100 percent potent after four years, said Dr. Jens Carstensen, a retired pharmacy professor in Wisconsin who wrote textbooks on drug shelf life. He tested five-year-old aspirin and found it to be “excellent.”

Drug expiration dates result in millions of dollars of perfectly useful drugs getting trashed every year. While I don’t recommend that you take an expired drug, I have taken some. This is waste that no one in political medicine has really discussed.

Best Regards,

John Di Saia MD

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