Are old medications really that dangerous?

BootsBoots drugstore.Photo: Norway Today Media

Are old medications really that dangerous?

Many of us have old medicines lying about just in case. And is that really dangerous? We have asked pharmacist and quality consultant in Boots Norway, Maren Hoff, the most common questions concerning medicines and longevity.


For how long are medicines usable?

– All medicines are labeled with a expiry date that indicates how long the product is safe to use. For some medicines, this shelf life may be affected by the way the medicine is stored. Some medicines should as an example be stored cold and protected from light. It is important to read the enclosed leaflet in order to use the medicine correctly.

Does some medicines expire faster than others?

– There is a difference in how long drugs are usable. Generally speaking tablets have long shelf life, while liquid products most often do not. Mixtures may last for a few days only. It is important to check the expiry date of every drug you use, as there can be major variations regarding this.

What happens to medicines after they expire?

– When they surpass shelf life, there are different things that can happen to the drugs. The active substance may change and therefore the effect of the drug is altered. Medicines that contain water can grow microorganisms, products can rancid or they can dry.

Is it dangerous?

– When the active substances change, the effect of the drug may be different from what is intended. Usually, it means that the drugs do not work as well as they should, but the worst case scenario is that the drugs change in such a way that they become harmful to your health. When a drug lose its effect it can cause your condition not to be treated.

It should be ok to use medication that I have received from my doctor before?

– This depends very much on which medicine we are talking about and what agreement you have with your doctor. It is important to remember that the doctor has prescribed the medicine according to how your health was at the time of your last check up. The body and your condition change. It’s also difficult to know for sure if the things that plague you at present are indeed caused by your previous ailments.

Is it okay to throw medicines away?

– Medicines are a significant environmental hazard, and you should deliver all old medicines and residuals to be disposed by the pharmacy. Antibiotics that are introduced into nature can be the cause of resistant bacteria. Medicines containing hormones can also affect wildlife very negatively. Make it a habit to clean out the medicine cabinet on a regular basis. Gather what you remove from the medicine cabinet and bring it to the pharmacy for destruction.

Should medicines be stored in the refrigerator?

That drugs last longer when placed in a refrigerator is a widespread misunderstanding. Some medicines should be stored in the refrigerator, but then they are clearly marked. Most drugs should be stored at room temperature. Humidity can be harmful to many drugs. Read the leaflet or ask your pharmacist if you have questions about how your medicines should be stored.

How do I store my medicine in order to make them last as long as possible?

– Store them as stated on the package. Invest in a safe and secure medicine cabinet and put that somewhere else than in the bathroom. The bathroom is not a suitable place for storing medicines as it is both hot and moist. Medicines should also not be placed in neither cold nor hot cars. Both too high and too low temperatures can affect drugs negatively.


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