Health and MedicineMedicinesThe expiration date of medicines and drugs

The expiration date of medicines and drugs

What is the expiration date of a medicine and why is it so important before consumption?  We discover what it consists of and what expiration date a drug has.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) an adequate use of medications and drugs is very important, which means that the person receives the appropriate medication according to their clinical need, in the corresponding doses based on their own individual requirements such as patient, for the most appropriate period. For this, it is essential that it is only the medical professional who decides what type of medication should be used.

However, as many experts state -and warn-, self-medication is very common, and not only self-medication but also the abusive consumption of medications without first having an adequate medical prescription.

When taking medications we must attend to different elements and basic, fundamental and important issues to avoid possible overdoses and adverse reactions that in many cases can be very serious for our health. One of these elements is the expiration date, or effective date of drug consumption.

What is the expiration date of a medicine?

As with the perishable foods that we consume every day in our diet, the medicines and drugs that we consume for the treatment of a certain disease or health condition have a certain expiration date.

The fact that a drug has an expiration date does not mean, as it does with food, that after that date the drug spoils or goes bad. It basically means that the medicine in its original container and state will remain stable until the indicated expiration date. This does not imply that the drug may be ‘unstable’ after the expiration date has passed, but rather that according to actual scientific studies or extrapolations carried out from degradation studies, the properties of the drug may be affected.

We must speak at this point of the “shelf life” of the drug, since it is the time that the drug remains stable and maintains more than 90% of its initial medicinal potential, as long as its storage conditions are the most appropriate.

That is, the expiration date is based primarily on market stability in its original container, not tampered with or opened. Today expirations greater than 2 or 3 years from the manufacture of the drug are not accepted.

Why is the expiration date of a drug or medicine so important?

In a medicine or drug, it is a very important element to take into account before consumption, since it is the one that is indicated or specified as the maximum time until which the chemical physical characteristics, potency and purity of the medicine are guaranteed, based on results and stability tests carried out for this purpose.

However, we must not only pay attention to the expiration date of the medicine, since there are elements that can degrade the different pharmaceutical specialties without having anything to do with their expiration date. That is, they can lose properties even when they are within the recommended consumption date. Furthermore, in vital or very specific treatments, it is very important to respect the expiration date indicated by the manufacturer, since it will be a guarantee that the drug will maintain 100% of the properties of the active ingredient.

For example, humidity affects a drug more than heat. The same applies to the pharmaceutical form of the product in question, since liquid forms (such as syrups or ophthalmic solutions) tend to be less stable than solid forms. Therefore, it is important to note the existence of any change in the physical appearance or color of the drug  (for example, any degree of turbidity, or changes in appearance or color), since if it is found, we must discard and always recycle medicine as a precaution.


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