DeBlog: Do Medication Expiration Dates Mean Anything?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Take a look in your medicine cabinet. What’s the oldest thing in there? JP Nagan just threw out Aspirin from 2004. Shelli told me she had medication from 1995.

Greg Thayer from Maple Grove wrote: “All of our medicine has an expiration date listed – Mary insists that I throw expired medicine but is it really bad? What is the purpose of the expiration dates on my Advil? I would like to know if we should use our expired medicine or toss it?”

We wondered if that Aspirin and Advil really goes bad, or if it’s just a technique for the drug companies to get us to toss the old medications so we buy new ones. What really causes a medication to go bad?

Awhile ago, we did a Good Question where we learned that sunscreen can work at 50 percent of its full power if it’s expired. Is the same true with medication? We’ll tell you Thursday night at 10.

In the meantime, e-mail me a picture of your expired drugs from your medicine cabinet. We’ll use it in the story at 10!

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Maynard Brandt

    Why won’t pharmacies allow you to return for disposal expired prescriptions or prescriptions you had to stop taking because of unexpected bad side effects?

    They’re the experts and probably have to dispose of out-of-date supplies every day. Yet when I ask, they won’t accept mine for disposal; leaving it to me, the amateur, to dispose of them, which if done incorrectly, could contaminate the water supply.

    • Marie

      I think primarily it would be a lot of work for pharmacy employees. As a hospital nurse, we must keep a log of all medications we dipose of, including drug name, amount, and how we got rid of it. It could be even more work for pharmacies. Disposal methods that are ‘allowed at home’ may not be allowed in pharmacies. One prescription probably wouldn’t be that much work, but dozens or more a week could be a significant burden to pharmacies. Finally, pharmacies are not required to accept medications from customers.

  • Maynard Brandt

    I watched the segment on tonight’s 10PM news. At the end you said to put the unused bottle in a plastic container with coffee grinds and toss that in the trash.

    The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

    instructions (that the Saint Marys Hospital Pharmacy in Rochester handed me when I asked about disposal — I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be taking all the pain pills they handed me when I was discharged following surgery last summer) are a bit more involved and don’t mention coffee.

    So which instructions should I follow?

  • Maynard Brandt

    4 steps removed from the MPCA document is the

    set of disposal instructions put out by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in February, 2007, which says to mix the pharmaceuticals themselves (not the bottle they’re in) with used coffee grounds or some other “undesirable substance” and place the mixture in a container which is then tossed in the trash.

    But that’s only if the FDA’s

    set of instructions doesn’t say those pharmaceuticals should be flushed down the sink or toilet. The (changeable) list of pharmaceuticals that should be flushed is in that document. The rationale given for why those can be flushed raises even more question (why not all? …).

    Crows (and probably other scavengers) figured out long ago that humans dispose of edible garbage in plastic bags. So I have to question the wisdom of putting this used coffee grounds/pharmaceuticals mixture in a plastic bag.

    The more I look into this the more confused I become, so I’ll stop.

  • Pat

    I think the TV spot left out an important item: some expired medication can be very harmful. One common example is the antibiotic “minocycline”. Expired minocycline can actually cause kidney damage. There are other medications that can be dangerous or even toxic if used after expiration. This “Good Question” really needs a follow-up TV presentation!

  • Marie

    Good Question submission:
    My understanding is that LEDs are suppose to be extremely long-lasting AND they use minimal energy. I purchased a LED flashlight and I have to change the batteries (2-AA) at least as often as flashlights with standard bulbs. WHY- should’nt the batteries last a long time?

  • TOM T.

    How will the state collect road taxes on fully electric cars,being that they won’t
    be buying any gas?

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