Is it Okay to Use Expired COPD Medicine?

Health Professional

With the ever increasing cost of COPD medicines I get a lot of questions such as, “Is it okay to use expired asthma medicines?”  My answer usually goes something like this: “While it’s not necessarily recommended, it might work.”

By law, all medicines must have an expiration date. This date is the predicted time to which the drug will lose 10 percent of its potency. Beyond the expiration date, the manufacturer will not guarantee the potency of the medicine; it will not guarantee taking the medicine will offer the intended benefits.

From that point on the contents of the medicine will continue to break down, making the medicine less potent over time. That said, most medicines maintain some potency for 2-3 years from the date they are manufactured, so long as they remain in their original packaging.

And considering a medicine may sit on the shelf of storerooms, trucks and then pharmacies, the expiration date is generally listed as one year as of your purchase date. So there is not much science behind the date on the medicine.

However, once the original container is opened for use or dispensing, the expiration date on the container no longer applies.

That said, the expiration date also assumes you are storing the medicine at the recommended temperature and humidity.  Most medicine should be somewhere between 59 and 86 degrees F (15-30 degrees C) and away from light and moisture.  You'll have to check the package of your medicines to see the exact recommendations.

The U.S. Department of Defense, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), created the Federal Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP) in 1866 in order to determine if medicines and vaccines stockpiled by the military would be effective after their expiration dates.  In 2001 the general consensus was that most medicines are effective long after set expiration dates.

So, you can see, even after the expiration date has been reached, most medicine will still contain some potency for quite some time.  Still, how potent the medicine will be is essentially a gamble, which is why expiration dates exist in the first place.

The question now becomes: Are expired asthma and COPD medicines safe?

While a few medicines do become less safe over time, most evidence suggests asthma medicines are safe for the duration of their existence. And, based on my own experience, they taste funny, like rotten mints.

Conclusion.  COPD medicine does maintain its potency long after the expiration date, and they are safe. Still, they will begin to lose potency at some point after the expiration date, and there is no guarantee when this will happen. Becaue it's your breathing we are talking about here, a general rule should be to replace unused medicine -- like your rescue inhalers -- at least once every year.