Why You Shouldn't Toss (All) Your Pills

Last year, just before Thanksgiving, the Retirement Millionaire Daily office moved to a new building.

I charged my assistants with packing my office. But what they found in my desk led to a great discussion...

As I've mentioned before, I keep a stash of pills in my desk. Some are in bottles, and others are loose or in small bags.

My assistants wondered if they could go ahead and throw out the bottles that were past their stamped expiration dates.

Despite their desire to rid my desk of clutter, I told them that expiration dates are mostly marketing ploys to keep folks buying more frequently.

In a landmark review, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested over 100 prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs for safety and efficacy. They found that 90% of the medications were still as potent and safe 15 years past their expiration dates!

Are any drugs unsafe past that date?

Yes. You shouldn't take certain drugs too far past their use-by dates. These include insulin, epinephrine, and eye drops.

Insulin, for instance, requires storage at a certain temperature. Manufacturers will say not to use it longer than 30 days after opening the vial. That's because they can guarantee full potency up till then (and even then, only if stored correctly). While it will start to lose a small potency after 30 days, some folks need 100% strength to keep their blood sugars under control. Your reaction after taking it past 30 days may vary, but it's best not to chance it.

EpiPens contain the drug epinephrine, which treats people with dangerous allergic reactions. Epinephrine loses potency rapidly as well. Because of the life-threatening condition it treats, making sure you have a full-potency EpiPen is critical.

Eye drops also should be used before the expiration date, just like most liquid medications... The liquid contains preservatives to keep it free of bacteria. But if the preservatives lose their potency over time, bacteria can start to grow in the liquid. You don't want an eye full of bacteria, so make sure to check those dates.

Although we've seen that some antibiotics remain stable for years, we urge you to use caution. First, if the antibiotics lose even a small bit of their effectiveness, there's an increased possibility that they won't kill all the bacteria... and that leads to things like superbugs. Second, when you get antibiotics, you should always finish the full course to make sure you've killed all the bacteria (again because of the potential to leave behind some with resistance).

Any other medicines, especially OTC meds, are still good long after their expiration dates. So don't throw out the aspirin or vitamin C just yet.

What if I don't want this medicine lying around?

So what do you do if you have leftover medications you don't need anymore? It makes sense to get rid of leftover prescription drugs – leaving them around the house poses a danger for children.

The safest route is to take them to a pharmacy for disposal. Ask your local pharmacy if they offer a drug take-back service.

If not, there's a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day organized by the Drug Enforcement Administration. This year it's on April 29. You can find answers to questions about drug disposal right here. Right now they're still coordinating sites for collections on this day, but you can also find other sites collecting year round right here.

Don't be tempted to flush your pills or throw them away in the garbage either... All those drugs can leach out into the groundwater. Finding a safe place to dispose of them is always the best choice.

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