News About Old Drugs

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has been busy!

Earlier this month, we wrote about the FDA’s new search engine to find information about drug and food product recalls ( Now, they are also giving us information about two other medication-related topics: expiration dates and drug disposal.

Medication Expiration Dates

The other day, I was hunting in the bathroom closet for medication to treat my spring allergies. When I found the package, I was surprised to discover that it had an expiration date of 2008. It was the middle of the night, and I was tempted to take a dose and buy a fresh supply the next day, but I did the right thing and threw the remaining pills away.

Expiration dates are not a ploy by pharmaceutical companies to keep you buying more product. Drugs are chemicals, and over time, the chemical composition of the medication can actually change. The drug may be weaker than expected, or in some cases, such as with tetracycline, the drug may become toxic. To make sure that the drug in your medicine cabinet is safe and effective, always check the expiration date before using.

Regardless of the expiration date, always throw away pills that have become discolored, powdery, or smell funny. Don’t use creams if they are hardened or cracked. And liquids shouldn’t be used if they look like they have an oily film on top, or if they are discolored or clouded.

To watch the FDA’s video about this topic, click here:  Expiration Dates Matter

Drug Disposal

If you no longer need a drug, or if the expiration date has passed, you’ll need to find a safe way to get rid of it. Here are some guidelines offered by the FDA:

  • Contact your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service to see if there is a medicine take-back program in your community. There are special rules about which medicines can be taken back, so ask for guidelines.
  • Many pharmacies are also beginning to provide drug disposal programs, so talk with your pharmacist to see if he or she knows of other medicine disposal programs in your area.
  • If no medicine take-back program is available in your area, check the FDA’s drug disposal page (available here: Disposal of Unused Medications) to find the list of medications that should be flushed, and not thrown in the garbage. These medications could be fatal if take by someone to whom it was not prescribed. The FDA says that:

When a medicine take-back program isn’t available, FDA believes that any potential risk to people and the environment from flushing this small, select list of medicines is outweighed by the real possibility of life-threatening risks from accidental ingestion of these medicines.

  • If the medicine is NOT on the “flush-only list,” then follow these instructions for disposing of the medication:
    • Mix medicines (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds;
    • Place the mixture in a container, such as a sealed plastic bag; and
    • Throw the container in your household trash

To read the full FDA webpage, click here: Disposal of Unused Medications

National Take Back Initiative

On Saturday, April 30, 2011, there is a national program to take back unused drugs. Between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm at specified sites around the country, you’ll be able to drop off all your excess medication.

Want to find a site near you? Click here:  Collection Site Search

To read more about this program, click here: National Take Back Initiative

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