Do you take note of the expiration dates of your medications, both prescription and over-the-counter? I must admit that I do not always check the dates printed on the packaging. But I’m here to tell you that it is an important thing to do. In recent weeks, our household has encountered a couple of situations where taking expired medications have produced less than satisfactory results.
The first situation involved an over-the-counter medication to help with chest congestion. This drug is one of those which had previously been available by prescription only but is now available over-the-counter. My mother looked through our “drug drawer” to see if we still had some Mucinex on hand - we did. She began to take it, following the directions, but didn’t experience much improvement in her symptoms.
I checked the original container and discovered that our bottle of pills was at least two years beyond the expiration date. Oops. Those pills were likely several years old and had lost their potency. She stopped taking them. Some drugs may become more potent or less stable over time and should not be taken past their expiration date.
So I looked through our supply of OTC drugs to identify the ones which need to be tossed, the ones which are quickly approaching their disposal date, and which ones should be okay to use for awhile longer. Our drug drawer lost some weight and gained some extra space in the process. Although rules may vary according to where you live, it is important to follow safe disposal practices when clearing out your excess medications.
The second situation is somewhat related to my recent relapse. One of the symptoms of this exacerbation was/is spasticity. The back of my legs and calves (especially on the left) would get tight and tighter, putting undue pressure on the front of my knees and causing much pain and discomfort. Before the round of Solumedrol I had in November, I had begun taking more and more Baclofen in an attempt to deal with this muscle tightness. Fortunately the IV steroids made the tightness disappear completely, which was awfully nice.
After I completed the oral steroid taper, the spasticity began to slowly creep back. So I tried taking more Baclofen which may or may not have been working. When I visited with my neuro nurse practitioner last Monday, I asked for a new prescription for Baclofen because it turns out that my current supply comes from a prescription filled in December 2008. On the bottle is the instruction to discard the medication after December 2009, but who really pays attention to such things? So it’s time to discard what few pills are remaining and obtain a new supply. This time I will not get as many pills at once to avoid having them expire on me.
Discard date vs. Expiration date
One thing that has me wondering exactly how long you can safely use or keep prescription medications comes from the fact that often the real expiration date of the drug is not listed on the prescription bottle. If the pharmacist fills your prescription in one of those clear amber plastic bottles, then all the information you have to go off of is the “discard after” date. This date is always one year from the time the prescription was originally filled.