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Is it Safe to Take Outdated Medicines?

You may be familiar with one of these scenarios:

1. You become sick with the flu. You visit the doctor and get a prescription medicine for your illness. In a few days you feel better, so you place the unused portion of the pills in the medicine cabinet… in case you need it again.

2. Your doctor has prescribed one type of medicine to help control your cholesterol. The pill doesn’t work as well as he or she expected, so they change you over to another brand. You throw the remainder of the prescription in a drawer in case your doctor prescribes them again.

3. You buy an OTC drug to treat a minor medical condition you’re suffering from. Once the problem clears up, you stop taking the pills and the package winds up in the bottom of your purse until you need them again.

If you become sick again, or if the doctor puts you on the same medicine he or she once prescribed for you, you may reach for that bottle of pills you’ve been holding onto. But, you have to ask yourself, “Is it safe to take outdated medicines?”

Medicines that are stored for a long period of time tend to lose their potency. So those over-the -counter cold pills you bought, or the cholesterol prescription your doctor prescribed last year won’t be as potent as fresh pills, even if they aren’t outdated. But that’s the least of the problem.

Worse yet, pills, tablets, liquids and any types of medicine that are outdated tend to change chemically as time goes on. The medicine may look like it’s okay even though it’s not. This happens most often when prescriptions or OTC medicines are stored incorrectly.

It’s ironic that we call that flat cabinet above our bathroom sinks a “medicine chest.” Because, this is the worst place to store any type of health remedies. The steam and heat from baths and showers tend to help break down pills, tablets, and liquids. For this reason, inspect any drugs you have had stored. If they have a different color, taste or look to them, don’t take them! Discard them instead and buy new medicines.

Storing prescriptions and OTC health remedies anywhere where there is heat or direct sunlight can also change their chemical make up. Read the labels and find out what the instructions are for proper storage. Some prescriptions, especially those that are liquid- antibiotics and insulin, for example- need to be kept in a refrigerator.

So, is it safe to take outdated medicines? Not according to the major pharmacy companies. But, then again, wouldn’t you expect that from them? The more drugs they sell, the more money they make. However, organizations like the FDA and Medline Plus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health also agree. In fact, it’s recommended that you spring and fall clean your medicine cabinet, refrigerator and anywhere else you keep your prescriptions and OTC drugs. Check the labels or the containers for their expiration dates.

Flush prescriptions or OTC medicines down the toilet. Rinse out liquids from bottles before you toss the containers in the trash. Or call your local pharmacy. Some pharmacies will take drugs back and dispose of them properly. Never toss outdated medicines in your trash where children or pets can get a hold of them!

If you can’t find the expiration date on the label of a prescription bottle, call your pharmacy to find out when it was dispensed and how long the medicine is good for.

Then, store your current drugs in their original containers on a high shelf in a cool, dry, dark place where little hands can’t reach them.

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