This is when it’s OK to take expired medication

Here’s news that can save you money: You can ignore the expiration date on many of your medications—for years. According to several reports, including this one just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), drugs may retain their potency for up to four decades!

What does the expiration date mean?

The expiration date is a legal requirement imposed by the FDA since 1979, according to the Harvard Health Letter. The expiration date is supposed to be the date at which the “manufacturer can still guarantee the full potency and safety of the drug.” But research conducted by the FDA demonstrates that 90 percent of more than 100 drugs—both prescription and over-the-counter—are perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date. A report from Medscape states that the expiration date doesn’t indicate how long the drug in question “is actually ‘good’ or safe to use.” Rather, medical authorities uniformly say it is safe to take most drugs well past their expiration date.

Things urgent care doctors won't tell you
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Things urgent care doctors won't tell you

Make sure you're in the right place

ER or urgent care? Always head to the ER for chest pain, severe bleeding, difficulty breathing, a neurological issue such as a seizure, or a serious head trauma with loss of consciousness. Here are the things ER doctors wish they could tell you.

We can see you early

The next time your regular doctor says it will be months before you can get an appointment, we may be able to help. Many urgent care centers offer STD tests, school and sports physicals, adult vaccinations, Pap smears, skin allergy treatments, and more. Learn the harmful habits doctors really wish you would stop doing.

Some call us lazy

Some primary care docs don’t like us because they say we skim the easy work and avoid responsibility for more complex matters. For instance, we’ll sew up the laceration on an inebriated person, but we won’t address bigger issues like alcoholism and high blood pressure.

Coming here by mistake can be costly 

Sorry, you won’t save money if you come here when you really need to go to the ER. If we transfer you by ambulance to the hospital, you may be responsible for co-pays at both places, plus the ambulance ride, which can double your fee.

If you’re paying cash, don’t be afraid to negotiate on price 

We may be able to reduce your bill, but there has to be a reason. Some urgent care centers even have special cards you can purchase that guarantee you a discount at every single visit. Here are some more simple ways you can reduce your hospital costs.

All urgent care centers are not created equal

Some can handle only basic ailments: sore throats, simple wounds, colds, and coughs; they don’t have an X-ray machine or a lab. Others can take on diagnoses and tests.

Our free samples could cost you later

We’re happy to give you a sample of the latest drug for your treatment. But that tends to be the most expensive. Ask for a less pricey but equally effective option so you can refill your prescription with ease. Here are some more secrets hospitals won't tell you, but every patient needs to know.

Not all our suggestions are good ideas

If I suggest a specific test or procedure, ask whether you really need it and what it will cost. To protect us from potential lawsuits, our clinic guidelines may require us to suggest various treatments even when they’re not really needed.

Make a reservation

To save time, call to see if you can get on the waiting list before you come. Some centers will send you a text message 30 minutes before someone can see you. Learn some more tips that will help you make the most of your next doctor's appointment.

Very few of our doctors start in urgent care

Many are burned-out ER or primary care doctors looking for less stress and easier hours.

We are desperate to please

Because we’re partially judged by patient-satisfaction scores, we’re under pressure to please. So if you want a steroid shot or an antibiotic for your cold, we’ll probably give it to you, even if it’s not necessary. The one thing we’re stingy about? Narcotic pain medications, since we know drug dealers can sell them. Learn the secrets your pharmacist won't tell you.

Even if there’s a doctor on-site, you may never see him or her

Most urgent care centers are staffed with physician assistants and nurse-practitioners; typically, a doctor is consulted for complicated cases. Here are the secrets nurses wish they could tell you.

We don’t have time to sanitize our waiting room after every patient

If you’re coming in at the height of flu season, stay safe by asking for a mask and using the hand sanitizer we have out. Here are some more etiquette rules you should always follow while visiting the hospital.


How long past?

The study in JAMA went well beyond 15 years: The researchers analyzed eight different drugs with 14 different active ingredients that expired anywhere from 28 to 40 years ago. Most of the active ingredients were still 90 percent effective (the minimum acceptable potency). The only substances that fell just below 90 percent potency were amphetamine (for ADHD and narcolepsy), phenacetin (a painkiller), and aspirin.

Francis Flaherty, former director of the FDA’s testing program, told Pharmacology Today that “expiration dates put on by manufacturers typically have no bearing on whether a drug is usable for longer” and that these dates are for “marketing, rather than scientific, reasons… It’s not profitable for them to have products on a shelf for 10 years. They want turnover.”

The exceptions

The meds you don’t want to use past their expiration dates include:

  • Tetracycline (this antibiotic loses its effectiveness after expiration, though scientists are still researching this)
  • Nitroglycerin (taken as heart medication)
  • Insulin
  • Liquid antibiotics

How to decide whether to take an expired drug

“Given that Americans currently spend more than $300 billion annually on prescription medications,” the JAMA report states, “extending drug expiration dates could yield enormous health-care expenditure savings.” If the expiration date has passed—even years ago—you should consider what the drug is and what you’re taking it for. If the drug is one of the exceptions—or if your life depends on the drug being 100 percent effective—get an unexpired version. Otherwise, you should be fine, and if you have further questions, check with your pharmacist.

By the way, when it is time to toss old meds make sure you know how to safely dispose of them.

The post This Is When It’s OK to Take Expired Medication appeared first on Reader's Digest.

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