What you need to know about expired medications

A man leans over a counter while holding two prescription bottles.

Most of us check expiration or use-by dates for the food we eat. But what about when it comes to the medication we take?

At Express Scripts® Pharmacy, our pharmacists frequently answer calls from customers with questions about medication expiration dates. To help understand this important topic, we turned to Bill Smith, a registered pharmacist in our Patient Consultation Department.

Who decides on a medication’s expiration date?

In 1979, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring an expiration date on prescription and over-the-counter medications. When a pharmaceutical company submits a new medication for FDA approval, the application must include a proposed expiration date and storage conditions, backed by testing and data.

Where can I find the expiration date for a medication?

The expiration date can be found printed on the label or stamped onto the bottle or carton, sometimes following the abbreviation “EXP.”

Why do medications expire?

Medications contain active ingredients that degrade and become less effective over time. This can cause serious health problems, according to Smith. There are also risks that as drugs degrade, other chemical compounds could develop that could cause unintended side effects.

Storage is another important part of keeping medications safe and effective. Read the label to see if there any specific instructions on how to store your medication. Most should be kept in a cool, dry place. Extreme temperatures or temperature changes can affect how well they work, even before they reach their printed expiration date. This is especially important with liquid medications, due to the potential for bacterial or fungal growth.

Can I take a medication if it just passed its expiration date?

“We don’t advise patients to use any medication beyond the expiration date,” Smith said. “There’s no way for us to determine the safety. The safest thing is to get a fresh supply of medication.”

What should I do with a medication after it has expired?

Expired medications should be discarded or disposed of properly. Check with your local public health department or police department, and review FDA drug disposal guidelines. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also sponsors National Prescription Drug Take Back Day in communities nationwide in April and October.


Make it part of your medication routine to check expiration dates regularly. And if you ever have any questions about a medication’s expiration date, safety, or effectiveness, talk to a pharmacist. Express Scripts® Pharmacy provides 24/7 access to specially trained pharmacists, like Smith, so you always have the support you need.

Updated: August 2, 2022

Posted date: October 20, 2021

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