Taking expired prescriptions is not usually advisable. They are not likely to harm you, at least if it’s a medication you normally take, but they may not be suited to your needs and may not be completely effective. All medications have an expiration date that guarantees them, if they are stored properly , until that point. The day a prescription expires doesn’t automatically render it ineffective or dangerous, but you can’t tell for certain that expired prescriptions will be the same strength as unexpired ones.
There have been studies on expired medications stored in optimum conditions, by the Food and Drug Administration. Of the over 1000 expired prescriptions studied, only a few degraded very quickly. Insulin and liquid antibiotics tended to have the shortest shelf lives. Most other drugs were still effective for several years beyond their expiration date, and some remained at full strength for five to ten years.
Very few expired medications have been found to cause harm. One form of tetracycline that was expired did cause liver damage to a user, but this form is not in use anymore. Still, there is some inherent danger in using expired prescriptions or even ones that haven’t expired for other than their prescribed purpose. For instance, if you think you have a sinus infection, you should not take antibiotics that were prescribed for something else.
Antibiotic use must be carefully controlled, and even if the antibiotics are at full strength, they are unlike to be as many in number as you would need. This means you could take a few antibiotic pills but only enough to make an infection come back stronger. This is self-prescribing and the medical community does not recommend it.
What about sleep medication, tranquilizers or pain relievers? With pain relievers it might make sense to keep some on hand if you’re prone to frequent injury, especially if you can’t get to a doctor immediately. It probably wouldn’t be harmful to take expired medications or even current ones of pain relievers for a new injury, though if you have any new health conditions or are on any new medications, you should check with your doctor first.
On the other hand, once a prescription is expired, you might not get as much relief from pain as you would if you took a current medication that was newly prescribed. As for sleep medication or tranquilizers, if your doctor has prescribed these on an as needed basis and your prescription just expired, they are not likely to harm you. However if they were prescribed long ago, you may need to check with a doctor before you use them, and to possibly get a new prescription.
When in doubt, don’t take expired prescriptions, especially for a purpose other than what they were intended for. You can check with a doctor or pharmacist to see if it’s okay to take something in an emergency setting. Usually doctors will prefer you to get a new prescription. It should be noted though that governments keep caches of near to expiration prescription drugs, which they would use in cases of national emergency. In an emergency setting, like a sudden asthma attack, if you have an inhaler that’s a few months past it’s expiration date, it is probably better to use it, even if it is not as effective as a newly prescribed inhaler would be.