Medications all come with an expiration date, both over the counter pills as well as those that you can only get with a doctor’s prescription. But what does that date actually mean? Will the medication not work, or even become dangerous, once the calendar passes that day and you’re standing in front of the medicine cabinet looking at the bottle?
The origin of drug expiration dates in America comes from 1979, when the United States Congress passed a law requiring the dates on all medication. The intention is that before that date, the manufacturer can assure the patient the drug will still work at full effectiveness. Most of the data that goes into assigning expiration dates comes at the behest of the US Military, who asked the Federal Food and Drug Administration to conduct research into the matter. With a large quantity of drugs to maintain against combat need, and also everyday use of soldiers and sailors, the military has a vested interest in knowing how long medications in its storehouses will be good for.
The results of this FDA study are surprising to many though, and not wildly publicized. Even as long as fifteen years past that date, the research determined most common medications are still effective and safe to use. The fact is, most medications are safe even past the date stamped on the bottle. They might be somewhat less effective, but there’s no need to toss a bottle that’s even a year or two out of date.